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The great plugin catastrophe


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I'll share mine, it was recent.

Would like to hear other experiences, maybe we can all learn something.

 

Since I've been working with a DAW, plugins, etc, I've been downloading all of my plugins as .AU because I'm using a Mac and that is Apple's format for plugins. If a download installed as .vst3, .vst or .AAX, I simply deleted it in the Library before opening Waveform to load the plugins.

 

Everything was working fine. Then I started downloading updates to Catalina, updates to Waveform, updating my plugins and adding a few from various sources.

One day, I started hearing sputtering sounds when trying to record an artist. Since she had chosen to not use headphones (solo act style), she didn't hear it.

 

I increased latency, my norm on Waveform has been 256 samples, which is under 6ms and nearly inaudible. I was successfully tracking a dozen or more tracks with no problems and now tracking 4 tracks (2 vocal mics and 2 acoustic guitar mics) was not working smoothly.

 

Eventually it got worse. I'd run more updates and added a couple more plugins. Then, I downloaded a plugin in .AU (Mac Format) and it would not load into Waveform. At the same time, I reached a point where I had the latency set to the maximum - 40ms more or less. And playing back a dozen tracks (not recording anything) was causing the "panic button" to come on (processor overload), stuttering, sputtering and crashing.

 

I knew I had to make it go away. I started surfing the interwebz for clues. I contacted support for the one mystery plugin that would not load as .AU. Support told me they downloaded a trial version of Waveform and the plugin loaded both as .AU and as .vst with no problems.

 

On thinking about it, I considered that Macs are a minority of the computers out there and Macs used for audio recording are an even smaller minority.

And, Macs have had no problem loading the Windows based .vst formats for a LONG time, in fact I've never known that not to work.

 

So it occurred to me that maybe there were far fewer code-writers who could write quality .AU code than there were code-writers who could write quality .vst code.

 

I save my installers, have quite a stash of them and I try to keep them current. I "nuked and paved" my plugins. After the reinstall, I kept the .vst versions and where possible deleted the .AU and .vst3 versions so there would only be one version of each plugin. Then I let Waveform do it's thing and reload everything.

 

I've got all my plugins organized in folders on the DAW, Delay, Guitar, Reverb, that type of sorting. I discarded the old plugins and re-organized using the same folders.

 

After a few tweaks, it seems to be working fine at 256 samples again. Last night I took a recording with 2 drum tracks and added 3 vocals, 3 guitars and a bass and had no glitching or clicking. It all ran nicely.

 

I am definitely not a computer code geek, I have no idea what I am doing for the most part. I am pretty good at coming to conclusions and very persistent. I have been getting my Macs to play nice since my first one in 1996 and when my manager at Kinko's back in the early 2000s told me Kinko's had improved their Mac OS installation system so nobody could ever steal software again, I showed him in 2 minutes exactly how easy it still was to steal anything, and it worked.

 

Windows, Linux or Mac - tell your plugin disaster story!!! Or any other computer boondoggle you solved. Cheers, Kuru

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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I've installed three updates to my Mackie hard disk recorder and one update to my Mackie console. Neither one affected any plug-ins, because there aren't any. ;)

 

I'm in the process of re-configuring and re-wiring some things in my patchbay to accommodate input and output differences between the Soundcraft and Mackie consoles and accommodating my accumulating pile of players for my "digitizing station."

 

Patchbay-Hero.png

 

THIS is a plug-in.

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I've installed three updates to my Mackie hard disk recorder and one update to my Mackie console. Neither one affected any plug-ins, because there aren't any. ;)

 

I'm in the process of re-configuring and re-wiring some things in my patchbay to accommodate input and output differences between the Soundcraft and Mackie consoles and accommodating my accumulating pile of players for my "digitizing station."

 

Patchbay-Hero.png

 

THIS is a plug-in.

 

Yes, but it is not a "plugin". 2 different things. No technology is free from obstacles.

Imagine having 97 analog audio units racked up in your studio and you have to "plug-in" everything and get it all working. Then, you have a problem and have to diagnose it.

It can be done, many have done it. I've chosen a different path, maybe not easier or simpler but it did save me 388 rack mount screws and at least 194 patch cables!!!!!

To say nothing of how much space you would need and how much it would weigh. My laptop still weighs the same, if I need those plugins over at a friend's place I just slip it in a carry case and go.

 

Something's lost and something's gained. :)

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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I've just experienced, for the very first time, a plug-in crashing a DAW on me for reasons other than stinky authorization/copy protection code, after nearly 20 years. Not a bad record.

 

I use both VST and AU, as they're largely the same code, and default to AU as I rarely have issues. Ableton Live's code is incredibly robust, so if something fails, that's a real danger sign.

Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) :D

Janitor and Hall Monitor, Dr. Mike's Studio Workshop

 

clicky!: more about me ~ my schwag ~ my radio station (and my fam) ~ my local tribe ~ my day job

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I have two outboard mic preamps, two outboard compressors, a delay, a gate, and two outboard reverbs. Most of the patch bay holes are empty much of the time, but they're there for, for example, when I'm copying a DAT tape and want to run the DAT's analog output through the console, make some fader and EQ adjustments and maybe through a compressor - some might call it "mastering, though I don't. I have my choice of any two of 24 line inputs to patch it to, though I usually use 1 and 2. And then, that channel has insert out/return jacks on the patchbay for plugging in that compressor.

 

Alternatively, I can run the DAT's digital output directly into the computer for the cleanest copy if that's what I'm after, and monitor the analog output of the computer where it comes into the console's monitor section. If this was an analog console and I was one of those finicky engineers who know that each channel sounds different, I could patch it to the channels that sound best for each song and really run up the customer's bill [HAH!!!].

 

I think it's Brainworx that has a whole console plugin where each channel is modeled against a different channel in the developer's own vintage (and that also means "aged with all the parts aging a little differently for each channel strip) console. That's not for me, but it can, and has been done, and no doubt people who spend too much time mixing love it.

 

I have had dirty patch cables and jacks though over the 40 years that its been in use, but it's maintenance. How many times have you had a plugin quit working and, after eventually bringing it back to life, not being really sure what made it fail. You got your bits, I got my electrons. I find it easier to "see" electrons, or lack thereof.

 

I suppose if I wanted to be cranky I should start a new topic about why every new plug-in and hardware processor I read about is about how many ways it can distort the input signal so that it sounds wonderful. Why did they not record it so that it sounded wonderful? Oh, I know, it's because distortion adds so much more detail and color, something we need more of.

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I have two outboard mic preamps, two outboard compressors, a delay, a gate, and two outboard reverbs. Most of the patch bay holes are empty much of the time, but they're there for, for example, when I'm copying a DAT tape and want to run the DAT's analog output through the console, make some fader and EQ adjustments and maybe through a compressor - some might call it "mastering, though I don't. I have my choice of any two of 24 line inputs to patch it to, though I usually use 1 and 2. And then, that channel has insert out/return jacks on the patchbay for plugging in that compressor.

 

Alternatively, I can run the DAT's digital output directly into the computer for the cleanest copy if that's what I'm after, and monitor the analog output of the computer where it comes into the console's monitor section. If this was an analog console and I was one of those finicky engineers who know that each channel sounds different, I could patch it to the channels that sound best for each song and really run up the customer's bill [HAH!!!].

 

I think it's Brainworx that has a whole console plugin where each channel is modeled against a different channel in the developer's own vintage (and that also means "aged with all the parts aging a little differently for each channel strip) console. That's not for me, but it can, and has been done, and no doubt people who spend too much time mixing love it.

 

I have had dirty patch cables and jacks though over the 40 years that its been in use, but it's maintenance. How many times have you had a plugin quit working and, after eventually bringing it back to life, not being really sure what made it fail. You got your bits, I got my electrons. I find it easier to "see" electrons, or lack thereof.

 

I suppose if I wanted to be cranky I should start a new topic about why every new plug-in and hardware processor I read about is about how many ways it can distort the input signal so that it sounds wonderful. Why did they not record it so that it sounded wonderful? Oh, I know, it's because distortion adds so much more detail and color, something we need more of.

 

I have stuff hooked up too, there are cables and patch boxes here. I even have a variety of analog widgets and lots of "real" instruments. But, I aint skeered of no ones and zeros, they are here to obey me.

Yes, I've been a crazy rock and roller from Fresno all my life, even the 6 years I spent only playing one Martin acoustic guitar I didn't let it get too pretty all the time.

 

I have one of the Brainworx consoles, an SSL I think. I haven't fired it up yet, something I'll get around to eventually. It was on sale and it sounded nice on the demos so they got my $30.

The one I have uses a way of creating digitally slight variation between channels. They go into more depth at Plugin Alliance, it's not modeling each individual channel, it is "simulating" modeling each individual channel. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, I was more attracted to the EQ section and compression to be honest.

 

I am not planning on keep 100% of my plugins but some of them sound beautiful. I wonder what you are reading? Read about Eventide Physion or Micro-Pitch, those are still fairly new plugins and neither of them is about creating distortion. Physion allows independent adjustment of transients and tones and Micro-Pitch makes things sound beautiful but not by using distortion. Both are useful, even on "pretty stuff".

 

I've got some lovely reverb and delay stuff, some remarkably nice guitar and bass amplifiers (including a complete Ampeg SVT rig that can be played LOUD without being loud and sounds great - plus weighs zero) and all manner of fun EQ plugins. The IK TrackS Leslie is a beautiful modulation effect, I have a fair number of variants in Modulation world. None of them are harmonic distortion.

 

The current tendency towards adding a bit of harmonic distortion to certain tracks to make them "pop" is not at all new. Records have been intentionally distorted for many decades and sounds on records have also been intentionally distorted. One of the standout aspects of Chess Records was that they recorded Chicago Blues artists they way they actually sounded. So Little Walter got that amazing blues harmonica sound on record because it was distorted in the studio. That was his tone, I would not want to hear him play a clean, sanitized, "nicey-nice" harmonica sound. That has it's place too but not in Muddy Waters band.

 

That's early 50s, before I was born. So go ahead and be cranky but distortion is part of how we've learned to listen and I blame all the people who could have made everything sound like a Paul Anka record. I also thank them for NOT making everything sound like a Paul Anka record!!!!! :laugh:

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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I've just experienced, for the very first time, a plug-in crashing a DAW on me for reasons other than stinky authorization/copy protection code, after nearly 20 years. Not a bad record.

 

I use both VST and AU, as they're largely the same code, and default to AU as I rarely have issues. Ableton Live's code is incredibly robust, so if something fails, that's a real danger sign.

 

You've done well, Dr Mike!!!

 

I've been using Tracktion/Waveform since about 2009 or so and mostly trouble free although I found the slowness of Firewire 400 on a Mac Pro with 6 gigs of RAM to be annoying over time.

 

As I note above, I am not a techie and know as close to nothing about code as is possible. You could be absolutely correct that .AU and .vst are very similar and it's entirely possible if I'd just reloaded everything as it was that it all would have been happy and joyful. My hat is off to those who spend the time figuring out exactly what went wrong but I am not interested in doing that. I just want my stuff to work and whatever fixes it is good, even if it is not substantiated by science or facts.

 

I'm just really happy to have it all up and running again!!!! :)

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Here's my recent plugin story. I bought VSL's Big Bang Orchestra libraries just before the holidays. I started to use them on a track, and everything was working fine until I saved and tried to exit Ableton Live 11. I got an error saying, "Undo cannot be deleted." Clicked OK and Ableton closes. When I reopened the project, I got an error saying that Live had unexpectedly quit and asked if I wanted to recover. Said yes, made some edit, and then I could no longer save the project. The project was lost. I tried many work arounds, but none did the trick. I searched forums, tried dozens of experiments with no leads other than it was only VSL BBO that was not working. Tried VSL support, but didn't get any follow up (this may have been because I used their chat feature, which doesn't seem to work.) This went on for six months. I tried VSL support again using their email address and got a response. The tech mentioned that it could be related to the eLicenser they use. He recommended downloading the latest, run maintenance, and try again, which I did. Viola! It worked. I can now use my BBO libraries again. I went back to all the forum posts I could find where people had the same issue and reported my results. I hope it helps them too.

 

Moral of the story: The problem isn't always where you think it is.

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Here's my recent plugin story.

[...]

The tech mentioned that it could be related to the eLicenser they use. He recommended downloading the latest, run maintenance, and try again, which I did. Viola! It worked.

 

Moral of the story: The problem isn't always where you think it is.

That's one moral. Mine is: If there's an eLicenser involved, the problem IS always where you think it is. :D

 

mike

(will not use any software with eLicenser protection ever, period, ymmv)

Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) :D

Janitor and Hall Monitor, Dr. Mike's Studio Workshop

 

clicky!: more about me ~ my schwag ~ my radio station (and my fam) ~ my local tribe ~ my day job

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One of the bright aspects of all this is that I can blow off eLicensers and subscription models without losing anything in the process. Its a pleasure to still be able to just plain BUY the darned instrument in most cases, or find an awe-inspiring reimagining for just a few bucks. I suspect that will gradually fade in favor of MAXIMIZING PROFITS, but I am closer to being under the dirt than above it, so I'm hitting the sweet spot just fine for my age, my era and my personal level of madness.

We just say "This is this, that's that,
 here it is and you respond to it."
The response is
 "Oh, I'm hip, but of course, I'm offended."
    ~ Frank Zappa

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Great posts all, this will be a fun and interesting thread. :)

 

Good tip Dr Mike.

 

And great concept David Emm. I love instruments, I have a good variety of real acoustic and electric thingies that must be played.

 

Recent additions to the plugin pile are luring me in that direction since I'm pretty well covered in the other. There are some amazing synths, modeled and sampled sound sets and players, Freaky shit like Fishman Triple Play which is both a musical instrument and a sample, model player that will host all .vst synths and is smart enough not to load non-synth .vsts and...

 

As a former owner of many tube guitar amps of all descriptions, a recently acquired "tube amp" plugin by Chandler (they make some fancy recording studio gear) has me smiling. I can just use a DI on my interface, drop the amp in and get a huge range of fantastic tones. It really feels like playing a great tube amp, I'd love to try the analog version (they've made a few, I bet they are not cheap!!!!).

 

Best sounding $30 amp I own and right up there with the best i've ever owned or played. So that's fun too!

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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I am not planning on keep 100% of my plugins but some of them sound beautiful. I wonder what you are reading?

 

Now that I think about it, probably mostly in Tape Op magazine review. They seem to be big over there (including many of the interview articles) in modifying sound in every which way. I may be skewed by that. I understand that there are plenty of interesting time-based effects that don't have distortion at their heart, but it seems that many of them sneak in a "drive" control that the reviewer always mentions. And you'll find that on equalizers and compressors as well as amplifier (and mic preamp) modelers.

 

The current tendency towards adding a bit of harmonic distortion to certain tracks to make them "pop" is not at all new. Records have been intentionally distorted for many decades and sounds on records have also been intentionally distorted. One of the standout aspects of Chess Records was that they recorded Chicago Blues artists they way they actually sounded.

 

Of course. Some tolerated a little distortion because the music was great. Where would James Brown be without the sound of the meters slamming against the pin with 3M 111 tape? This wasn't really controlled, it just happened, and it didn't sound bad enough to do another take. However, today's "tape simulation" plug-ins go well beyond this, with all sorts of tweaks that people learned about how to make tape sound better in ways other than adding harmonics. I'm not arguing against this - I think it's cool that people can learn the tricks of analog tape recorder setup without having a tape deck. But many don't understand what they're doing and their goal is to just get more distortion.

 

So go ahead and be cranky but distortion is part of how we've learned to listen and I blame all the people who could have made everything sound like a Paul Anka record. I also thank them for NOT making everything sound like a Paul Anka record!!!!! :laugh:

 

Well, not every singer sounds like Paul Anka, thank goodness.

 

I don't mind creativity in the studio, not one bit. The thing that bothers me is all the talk about bringing out subtle details of this and that instrument and how much flexibility you have. But what happens when you mix? Does it really matter? Does it sell any more records? I don't know, but it sure sells more plug-ins. ;)

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I don't mind creativity in the studio, not one bit. The thing that bothers me is all the talk about bringing out subtle details of this and that instrument and how much flexibility you have. But what happens when you mix? Does it really matter? Does it sell any more records? I don't know, but it sure sells more plug-ins. ;)

 

Many of us are simply on a search, we haven't found our happy place yet.

 

I've been experimenting with adding a bit of distortion to certain tracks in a mix for quite a while now. Recently, I tried making a duplicate track and tossing in a distorted guitar amp plug in because I find the harmonics are more musical to my ear than some of the other plugins. I tweak for the kind of distortion I want, use the Apple High Pass which is a fantastic and super simple adjustable high pass filter with NO KNOBS - love it!!! And I clear out all the mud.

 

Then I play the entire mix and just add enough of that track back into the vocal to tell the difference. Without adjusting anything else it can really make the vocal come out more clearly - somehow harmonic distortion adds clarity. Go figure.

 

The real problem with plugins is the problem with EVERYTHING - there are more ways to make them sound bad than there are ways to make them sound good. But the good ways can be really good if one continues to search and experiment.

It's a process and yes, some folks will never "get it" but that is part of the curve and part of the process.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Sir Mike, I bet my parallel harmonics trick would sound good on some of your bluegrass mixes, Pop the solos just a bit. Since the vast percentage of the sound would be exactly as recorded I doubt anybody would hear any distortion.
It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Used to be that they did that by stepping a bit toward the (one) microphone for a solo. Probably changed the harmonic content a bit.

 

How well does your parallel harmonics trick work on full mixes or live direct to mono or stereo recordings? Do you need a clean track for it to make a solo pop a bit?

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Used to be that they did that by stepping a bit toward the (one) microphone for a solo. Probably changed the harmonic content a bit.

 

How well does your parallel harmonics trick work on full mixes or live direct to mono or stereo recordings? Do you need a clean track for it to make a solo pop a bit?

 

I've just more or less figured it out, still refining it.

I'm guessing but it seems like putting it on a mixed track would make the entire mix sound a bit brighter and slightly more compressed (part of the sound of a guitar amp is a low ratio compression, at least until you crank it, then the ratio goes up quite a bit). With parallel processing, the magic is that we almost entirely hear the original track, with the harmonics sort of sneaking around in the back.

 

Seems like it might be better to use the extra harmonics in specific places on a bluegrass track, just on the solos and maybe the vocals. Easy enough in Waveform (and I'm sure other DAWs) to automate the volume of the harmonic track so it just comes up a little during a solo then backs down again. That way you could switch the emphasis to the current soloist, whatever the instrument. Would take a few duplicate tracks but most bluegrass bands are 3-6 players, true?

 

And maybe add harmonics to the lead vocal but not the harmony parts, except if there is a vocal crescendo, then hit all the vocals.

 

There are a lot of different ways you can use it. Part of my point is that these "harmonics/saturation" controls on plugins can work out nicely if one listens and avoids over-doing it. It's simply plugins trying to compensate for how clean (I've heard the word "sterile" used) digital recording is in comparison to the records we are all used to hearing.

 

It used to happen all the time and we got used to it.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Sounds like too much trouble, but I guess there's always a way to improve the sound, though "improve" is subject to opinion. I might not say "Ugh! That sounds distorted!" but I might say "So what? What's really better? Who else can hear it?"

 

I have been goofing around with parallel processing for a long time, I started all analog and am thinking about a stereo guitar system now with 2 amps.

There is something about the sound of a pristine instrument tone, whatever it may be, blended with bits of this and that. Modulation sounds very different with one "normal" channel/track and one with effects, it "moves through the air", giving a sense of space. It's a local effect, better for recording than for live - out in the room people don't hear the 3d aspect so one amp is fine.

 

Anyway, I've done parallel for decades one way or another and it sure is simple and efficient on a DAW compared to hooking up the signal chains I used to play around with. It's all fun, but very different perspective. The level of control is hard to beat, with weightless, sizeless gear that sells literally for dimes on the dollar or less.

 

Meanwhile, one could set up two mics, route one to a mic pre with a send and return (my Focusrite ISA One has that) and put your pedal of choice in there. I got good results with a SansAmp Para Driver DI V2, that is a truly tweakable piece of gear and very well designed to accommodate studio work - it can be powered by an XLR cord with phantom power. I put the send from the pre into the input and the return into the parallel output - zero effects are applied. The pristine recording goes to that track, the other track gets the effect pedal, 2 mics close together. I've done it a few times and it's always done the same sort of enhancement.

 

Just add as much as you want and if you are mixing on a mixer (oh, the irony! lol), you can fade it in or out as you please.

Tha's pretty simple to test and see if you think it's worth doing.

 

You could parallel the input/output on a Whirlwind IMP2 like mine and run an XLR to 1/4" into a fuzz box if that's what you have. It'll create harmonics in abundance!!!!!

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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I have been goofing around with parallel processing for a long time, I started all analog and am thinking about a stereo guitar system now with 2 amps.

There is something about the sound of a pristine instrument tone, whatever it may be, blended with bits of this and that. Modulation sounds very different with one "normal" channel/track and one with effects, it "moves through the air", giving a sense of space. It's a local effect, better for recording than for live - out in the room people don't hear the 3d aspect so one amp is fine.

 

I'm not quite sure what to say that doesn't sound snobbish, but if you have a "pristine tone," why mess with it? Why make it move if the player didn't move?

 

I guess what I'm saying is that there's a difference between capturing a sound and sound design. If your recording sounds like the original guitar sound and it's not the sound what you want, that's the time to move the mic, try a different guitar or player, or maybe make some adjustments on the amplifier. If you start messing with pedals, delays, and other approaches to changing the sound (like adding harmonics, for example), then you're using your recording as raw material and designing a fresh sound that you can't make with a pick and strings. That's OK, though once you get into this, the sound of the original recording doesn't matter quite as much as if you left it out in the open as it sounded when recorded.

 

Most of the new effect devices and plug-ins that appear in the marketplace do things that you could do with basic tools, but you just never thought about doing this or that - what they've done is collect a set of tools, arrange them in a specific way, and with a blend of a pinch of this and a smidgen of that, which sound good to the developer.

 

I guess what I'm getting to here is that we have so many ways to make a new sound with a few mouse clicks that we don't understand what's going on under the hood - things that we could have done with the sort of experimenting that you're doing with the tools that you have. So you get a pass - -) but I dunno about the guy or gal who reads a review, buys a plug-in, and creates a new sound from what was played. Is this necessary? Sadly, I think so, more often than not, because you don't know what you're aiming for, you just want something different, and it's so easy to cut-and-try without knowing what you're after, that you might have been able to get at the recording phase.

 

It's the sense of "I don't know what I really want but I'll know when I stumble into something that works in this song."

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I have been goofing around with parallel processing for a long time, I started all analog and am thinking about a stereo guitar system now with 2 amps.

There is something about the sound of a pristine instrument tone, whatever it may be, blended with bits of this and that. Modulation sounds very different with one "normal" channel/track and one with effects, it "moves through the air", giving a sense of space. It's a local effect, better for recording than for live - out in the room people don't hear the 3d aspect so one amp is fine.

 

I'm not quite sure what to say that doesn't sound snobbish, but if you have a "pristine tone," why mess with it? Why make it move if the player didn't move?

 

I guess what I'm saying is that there's a difference between capturing a sound and sound design. If your recording sounds like the original guitar sound and it's not the sound what you want, that's the time to move the mic, try a different guitar or player, or maybe make some adjustments on the amplifier. If you start messing with pedals, delays, and other approaches to changing the sound (like adding harmonics, for example), then you're using your recording as raw material and designing a fresh sound that you can't make with a pick and strings. That's OK, though once you get into this, the sound of the original recording doesn't matter quite as much as if you left it out in the open as it sounded when recorded.

 

Most of the new effect devices and plug-ins that appear in the marketplace do things that you could do with basic tools, but you just never thought about doing this or that - what they've done is collect a set of tools, arrange them in a specific way, and with a blend of a pinch of this and a smidgen of that, which sound good to the developer.

 

I guess what I'm getting to here is that we have so many ways to make a new sound with a few mouse clicks that we don't understand what's going on under the hood - things that we could have done with the sort of experimenting that you're doing with the tools that you have. So you get a pass - -) but I dunno about the guy or gal who reads a review, buys a plug-in, and creates a new sound from what was played. Is this necessary? Sadly, I think so, more often than not, because you don't know what you're aiming for, you just want something different, and it's so easy to cut-and-try without knowing what you're after, that you might have been able to get at the recording phase.

 

It's the sense of "I don't know what I really want but I'll know when I stumble into something that works in this song."

 

"'m not quite sure what to say that doesn't sound snobbish, but if you have a "pristine tone," why mess with it? Why make it move if the player didn't move?"

Who judges, this "pristine tone", it cannot be any more "realistic" than hundreds of other variants caused by different rooms, different strings, different instruments and how the hell do you keep a player from moving without affecting their creativity. People move when they play, it's part of the music flowing through them. The mic doesn't move, the "pristine" tone changes - what then? (oh, that tone is just as pristine only different?)

 

Not snobbish at all, simply a difference. As Salvador Dali once said "The difference between me and the surrealists is that I am a surrealist."

You approach recording with a an approach of attempting capturing what is there. With digital media we can get closer than before.

 

In my opinion, it still completely misses the mark. You can capture the sound of a guitar in a specific room at a specific time with a specific microphone set in in a specific location (as is the guitar, assuming the player stays stiffly in one exact position). Is that realism or simply accepting that you've done what you all you feel like doing at this point in time? By placing the mic in one spot, you are intentionally avoiding other spots but the guitar still makes those sounds too, a person listening in the room hears the entire guitar (in THAT room, with THEIR ears).

 

You are modifying the sound as much as I am, just in a way that you've chosen to use. My friend Katie showed up at an open mic night, the host set the mics up for her and she started playing and dancing around (like she always does when the music flows through her) and her mic positions changed constantly. It didn't matter, her energy carried her well, everybody loved it except the host, who was pretty frustrated but Katie gonna do what Katie does.

 

I record music but above and beyond that, I am an Artist.

 

Imagine the Beatles recorded by the "white coats" per their documented procedure "just so and no other way". Imagine telling Pete Townshend to turn his amp down because his tone is too distorted.

Thats recording in the studio the "correct" way. We would have missed a great deal if that concept held firm, we still miss a lot now because of it.

 

When John Lennon asked Geoff Emerick to close mic Ringo's drums, that was breaking the rules at Abbey Road. They did it anyway. Now it is very common practice. Is it "correct"? There is the tricky part...

 

... define "correct."

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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I guess what I'm getting to here is that we have so many ways to make a new sound with a few mouse clicks that we don't understand what's going on under the hood - things that we could have done with the sort of experimenting that you're doing with the tools that you have. So you get a pass - -) but I dunno about the guy or gal who reads a review, buys a plug-in, and creates a new sound from what was played. Is this necessary? Sadly, I think so, more often than not, because you don't know what you're aiming for, you just want something different, and it's so easy to cut-and-try without knowing what you're after, that you might have been able to get at the recording phase.

 

It's the sense of "I don't know what I really want but I'll know when I stumble into something that works in this song."

 

The list of things I've stumbled onto just goofing around is very long. Sometimes I learn that I don't want to do that, which is also useful. How did you learn? I'm guessing there was some trial and error, I'd be surprised if not. It's what we do, experiment.

 

A significant chunk of what I do on the guitar comes from trial and error, vocals too. The same is true with engineering, mixing, producing.

 

I've found plugins to be a relatively inexpensive and extremely efficient way to plunge headfirst into trial and error. The other day I dropped an Ampeg SVT plugin onto a kick drum to see what it did. The Ultra Low switch provided a FAT kick while the mid and high EQ gave it definition. It wasn't a bad choice, may not become my go-to but it's nice to know it worked and it may be subject to some more tweaking.

 

I've been learning what individual plugins do first, there will be combinations eventually but I favor simply adding another track with a single plugin for now. Sometimes that's added up to 7 or more tracks, all with their own plugins. Not so much that I want to have a kitchen sink mix as it has occurred to me that it might be cool for a guitar to shift in sound through the mix. I've done that sort of thing live - this part needs some modulation and this part could use a bit of delay. Quick flick of the switch on stage and I'll put that part in there.

 

LOTS of guitarists and keyboardists do that live on the fly all the time, it's certainly nothing new. I'm just exploring ways of doing it as a producer of a song instead of as a guitarist.

 

Everybody can do whatever they want but this is opening doors for me. If you are happy doing otherwise, I'm happy for you but this new way of working will be the path moving forward for many. Not everybody is in the same place on the curve - that is good. I don't look down on a beginner seeing what something will do, I still am that person in many ways, new ways of doing things are coming at us quickly.

 

I don't try to hop all those trains but some of them have been good rides!

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Seems like a lot of the focus is "big" and "detailed." Usually they make things big by creating distortion, or, in terms that let you put more controls on the process, "adding harmonics." The distortion is described in several colorful ways, but they all amount to adding harmonics, some pleasant sounding, some less pleasant or "bigger" sounding.

 

I'm not sure what "detailed" is, but I suspect that it also involves harmonics. Low order harmonics for "big" and higher order harmonics for "detail."

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Seems like a lot of the focus is "big" and "detailed." Usually they make things big by creating distortion, or, in terms that let you put more controls on the process, "adding harmonics." The distortion is described in several colorful ways, but they all amount to adding harmonics, some pleasant sounding, some less pleasant or "bigger" sounding.

 

I'm not sure what "detailed" is, but I suspect that it also involves harmonics. Low order harmonics for "big" and higher order harmonics for "detail."

 

 

"Detailed" could also be addressing transients or simply a very specific high frequency range without adding any harmonics. Those sorts of options exist. "Big" includes precise low frequency EQ, compression and dialing out some specific mids, again, there may be no added harmonics.

 

Literally anything is possible in the digital realm and coders have been at it long enough to cover most of it. You do have teams like Eventide working full time on this stuff as well as the random maverick genius code writers.

 

It can be whatever the individual using the plugins makes it. In the end, the harmonic distortion feature in some plugins is a tiny fraction of the overall plugin market.

 

I have tons of amazing synth plugins, some of them models of actual synths, some of them created entirely from scratch and many that are models of actual instruments - Miroslav Philharmonik 2 has just about every traditional European orchestral instrument you can think of in various solo and ensemble expressions. SampleTank has some amazing sounds, including reed keyboards (plus accordions and harmonicas) and offshoots like a Clavinet played through various tube amps. Then there are all the drum "synths".

 

I can play any of these with my guitar and Fishman Triple Play system or on a keyboard (I suck at keyboards but I have some friends who are very good indeed). It is a massive sound palette, there isn't enough room in my condo for all the instruments or enough time in the day to learn how to cut my own double reeds for an oboe or bassoon, but they all fit on my laptop.

 

I've got a nice stash of bass and guitar amps too. Modulation options ranging from a well modeled Leslie speaker to otherworldly phasing, flanging and chorusing. Pitch shifting, transient modifying, panning, other stereo effects.

 

And of course mic preamps, EQs (LOVE the Dangerous Music BAX EQ, it's really well done and effectively phase shift free, dynamics processors, etc.

 

I use them pretty sparingly for the most part. Every once in a while I'll tackle a Metapop.com remix for fun and toss a bunch of crazy in there to learn what happens if...

I'm big on "what happens if" in case you haven't noticed. :)

 

Find me some recordings that have zero harmonic distortion of any kind, anywhere and we can discuss that option. I suspect it's pretty rare, even though it is possible. I know some strive to achieve it, I am certainly not against it. But it isn't what I want to do or intend to do. I was imprinted as a child with the sound of tube AM radio playing songs from the late 50's through the 60's and the sound of harmonics is part of who I am as an Artist and Musician. Plus I am a dirty rock, blues and country guitarist. Distortion is a tool to me, not something to be feared or avoided.

 

I remember reading that the Rolling Stones intentionally kept their albums fairly short so they could have the deepest possible grooves in the vinyl. That ends up hitting the limiter at the radio station and being the loudest possible song. They weren't the only ones to do that, there is a reason why 45s were generally under 3 minutes.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Find me some recordings that have zero harmonic distortion of any kind, anywhere and we can discuss that option. I suspect it's pretty rare, even though it is possible. I know some strive to achieve it, I am certainly not against it. But it isn't what I want to do or intend to do. I was imprinted as a child with the sound of tube AM radio playing songs from the late 50's through the 60's and the sound of harmonics is part of who I am as an Artist and Musician. Plus I am a dirty rock, blues and country guitarist. Distortion is a tool to me, not something to be feared or avoided.

 

Everything has some harmonic distortion. If I may, I'd call some distortion "organic" - in the sense that it's unavoidable in the design of the piece of equipment that the signal passes through from source to ear - and that's a lot of stuff that contributes to total distortion. There are some great microphone preamps with nearly immeasurable distortion. Any flavor of compression creates new harmonics due to the non-linearity over the gain change range, though this is often ignored in real hardware in favor of distortion introduced by the non-linearity of tubes, transistors, and transformers. Similarly, there's inherent and "organic" distortion with magnetic tape. Microphones have all sorts of stuff coming out that didn't go in, as do loudspeakers. Probably the lowest distortion parts of our contemporary recording chain is the analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters.

 

Perhaps it's those distortions that have been eliminated from the chain such as by using a synth piano rather than a real piano, room, microphone, preamp, and recorder need some of those distortions put back in order to make them sound like what you're accustomed to hearing. There are many plug-ins that do that, and I expect do it very well.

 

But when recording live sources you know what it sounds like at the point where you place the microphone, even with multiple microphones when listening to the mix. It's impossible to exactly match the source with the playback because there are too many variables, but at least you can know what you're recording and decide when you're getting as close as you want. Taking that recording and modifying it with plug-ins becomes sound design - and I have nothing wrong with sound design - but it's not the same as correcting mic placement or a dead string on a guitar.

 

I remember reading that the Rolling Stones intentionally kept their albums fairly short so they could have the deepest possible grooves in the vinyl. That ends up hitting the limiter at the radio station and being the loudest possible song. They weren't the only ones to do that, there is a reason why 45s were generally under 3 minutes.

 

Groove depth is set by the cutter and is a function of the thickness of the lacquer coating on the bank. What makes disk playback louder is greater groove width, and that's where the mastering engineer's skills, tools, and directions come in. There are some variable limits, for example, you can cut a groove that some playback styli can track and other styli will jump out of the groove. You don't want to cut a record that's not playable on most players, so it's important to know how wide your grooves are. This is where compression and limiting comes in, controlling the maximum current that goes to the cutter head, and, along the way, changing the waveform and therefore adding distortion that's (literally) baked into the grooves. You want it to play loud - you cut the widest grooves you can and the distortion added by the compressor that's keeping the groove width within the limit probably makes it sound even louder.

 

We didn't need digital recording to start the loudness wars.

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As always, an interesting response!

 

I was thinking about all the "sound design" that people used to do when recording. Since you mention acoustic guitars, I was in a pro studio playing a 12 string track on my Rainsong and the Owner/Engineer said "I hear a strange set of tones". I said he should come in, put my headphones on and find it while I was playing. When he put his finger over the strings between the nut and the tuners, the sound went away. We put painters tape over them, problem solved.

 

But, how is that not sound design? We changed the sound of the actual guitar at the source. There are lots of examples, the "banjo" on Mrs Brown by Hermans Hermits is a Gretsch hollowbody with something under the strings by the bridge.

Carol Kaye mentions taping a piece of felt over the strings of her bass near the bridge in just about every interview. Snare drums get taped up all the time, sometimes pianos get blankets put over them, other times upright pianos get thumb tacks in the hammers. And what of Ray Stevens and David Seville (the 3 Chipmunks) and their method of pitch-shifting by recording on slow running tape and playing it back at speed?

 

All sound design. Something to think about anyway...

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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I think that's kind of stretching the term "sound design." Putting tape over a buzzing guitar string is fixing a problem with an instrument. Now if you didn't fix that buzz, but rather extracted it out of the recorded track, ran it through a few pedals, got it to sound like a melodic fart, and mixed it back into the tune (or saved it for another tune), now that's sound design. In those cases, as well as the taped snare drum head or putting tacks in piano hammers, or faking a banjo with a guitar, you're changing the sound of your source, but you're doing it at the source - before it's recorded so I wouldn't call that sound design.

 

Unless [and I thought of this later] the fact that the engineer said he heard some strange tones rather than saying "you have a string buzzing" qualified it to be sound design because (he thinks) you're working with "tones." - Geez it's hot today and I can't think too hard.

 

An example: If you don't know what instrument you want to use for a track, you could play that track on piano and record the MIDI data, then play the MIDI data back while sorting through instruments and deciding which one you want to use for that track, that's sort of sound design. To me, what makes it sound design is that you can change it again at any time, and probably will by the time you get to, or close to mixdown,

 

Is tuning the low E string on a guitar down to D, or putting the guitar into a non-standard tuning - both make it sound different from a conventional guitar - could that be sound design? I don't think so, but feel free to disagree.

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I think that's kind of stretching the term "sound design." Putting tape over a buzzing guitar string is fixing a problem with an instrument. Now if you didn't fix that buzz, but rather extracted it out of the recorded track, ran it through a few pedals, got it to sound like a melodic fart, and mixed it back into the tune (or saved it for another tune), now that's sound design. In those cases, as well as the taped snare drum head or putting tacks in piano hammers, or faking a banjo with a guitar, you're changing the sound of your source, but you're doing it at the source - before it's recorded so I wouldn't call that sound design.

 

Unless [and I thought of this later] the fact that the engineer said he heard some strange tones rather than saying "you have a string buzzing" qualified it to be sound design because (he thinks) you're working with "tones." - Geez it's hot today and I can't think too hard.

 

An example: If you don't know what instrument you want to use for a track, you could play that track on piano and record the MIDI data, then play the MIDI data back while sorting through instruments and deciding which one you want to use for that track, that's sort of sound design. To me, what makes it sound design is that you can change it again at any time, and probably will by the time you get to, or close to mixdown,

 

Is tuning the low E string on a guitar down to D, or putting the guitar into a non-standard tuning - both make it sound different from a conventional guitar - could that be sound design? I don't think so, but feel free to disagree.

 

I think when you are physically changing a musical instrument to make it record better, that is not a real sound anymore. My $3200 new price Rainsong guitar was not designed with painters tape across any strings anywhere. Moving a mic around on a drum until you (hopefully) find an acceptable sound for the recording that you want is also sound design, if you just stuck the mic on it and went it could very well sound like total crap. He didn't mention strings buzzing, he said he was hearing "a strange overtone" and, he was. On the other hand, my guitar WAS designed to be easy to tune in any tuning you would like. Changing a tuning is a musical style, not sound design.

 

I think his problem was more mic placement and possibly using pre-compression than an issue with the guitar. I've had good luck recording it, it's hard to make it sound bad. On the other hand, it has a mic built in and I want to sing into it to hear what that sounds like - that's sound design.

 

I don't object to sound design in the slightest, I thing it's great - but I don't really buy into this idea that it can only be done with plugins. Les Paul was a sound designer way back when he used to multitrack by cutting a record on his home made record cutter, playing that record and recording another guitar on top of it. That finished sound did not exist before he did that and hiring 6 guitarists to play it simultaneously would not have sounded the same either.

 

In other words, I consider much of multi tracking however it's done to be sound design. What else could it be? "Oh hi, I'm just recording part of this band playing part of this song and then I'll record some other part of this song with some other part of this band and I have to change the way the snare drum sounds and be careful where I mic the guitar speaker and get the bass player to stick foam under his strings and maybe the kick drum needs more tape on it"... that's not sound design? It isn't what the band actually sounded like, I can tell you that much. Often, the truth is brutal and recording does not lie. Microphones can be especially unforgiving. So, somebody has to get in there and spread pixie dust, syrup and butter on all of these horrendous sounds or the record will never sound good at all.

 

It is the most important part of recording, getting a great sound going it. Some people bring it, my friend Falcon can cut a beautiful, keeper vocal track on a beat up old Shure SM58 easily. I've heard him do it time and time again live. He's not the only one, there are many. But there are also lots of records made of musicians who don't really sound record ready, so they need a Sound Designer to help them get there.

 

And EVERYBODY did it for decades. Double tracking a vocal? John Lennon didn't like the sound of his voice so he double tracked it often. Sound design by the "Worlds Most Popular Band".

 

Music Concrete (sorry, I don't know how to make the accent mark), was most certainly sound design and I Am The Walrus and Strawberry Fields Forever would never have sounded like that if somebody hadn't stumbled onto a precedent.

 

Plugins are simply part of an evolution in recording technology and nothing more. If all drums sounded perfect nobody would ever mess with them, would they? Since drums can now be digitized and effected by plugins, people do it. You are probably thinking they would be better off figuring out how to make the drum sound good in the first place and I agree that would be best practice but music has evolved along with the technology and there are many popular and common drum sounds being used now that have nothing to do with traditional drums. The same is true for keyboards and even for the effects racks that are now available - Remember when Cher made that song making fun of Auto-Tune and suddenly everybody wanted to sound just like that? Backfired in a funny way but there you go.

 

We do have more choices now than ever before but there were certainly choices back then. I do know more ways to make a Fender Twin sound bad than ways to make it sound good, just turning the knobs can get you there, so can putting a mic right in the center of the speaker cone. Giving it a solid kick and setting of the reverb tank? The engineers nerves are shattered, time to go home now... :laugh:

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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I am now entering the obvious and inevitable next step.

I am testing and comparing plugins, hoping to find at least a few that I can just remove and forget about.

 

I've already got my plugins all categorized in folders. That makes it simple to compare apples with (more or less) apples. I was surprised by how different my delay plugins sounded but I like that.

I expect it will be true for reverb as well. Going into the synths will be really out into the weeds for me but I have quite a few of them (mostly free) and would like to see what all is there.

 

I've shut off the auto-scan for plugins. I can delete them from the DAW and still keep them on the computer if I haven't decisively decided to delete something.

Some things may just go away completely, I am open to that but not determined.

 

For me, the interface is important. I love it when a plugin is laid out in a logical fashion and is easy to use on a computer. I have 2 Eventide plugins that have excellent interfaces, no knobs, sliders instead. Intelligently labelled, no slang terms. It is possible to create 2 presets (or use 2 of the many included presets) and do a blend or crossfade from one sound to another - great feature.

They've raised the bar in my experience.

 

I like being able to resize the interface, especially if it is a bit busy. I like having lots of presets but also easy adjustments and the ability to save my own presets.

I don't require a plugin to sound "authentic" or even good, as long as it sounds good sounding bad.

 

I never assume that a plug in that may be targeted at doing a particular thing is only good for that one thing. A plug in emulation of an Ampeg SVT bass amp might sound fantastic on a kick drum and I am adding some nice harmonics and compression by parallel processing a favorite guitar amp (the Chandler guitar amp plugin on Plugin Alliance) on a vocal track and blending in a small amount of it. Most people would notice that the vocal is standing out in the mix more but not many would guess why.

 

I don't like overly complex plugins, lots of knobs (to me, knobs are an assumption that I NEED a plugin to look like a piece of gear that I've never seen in my life and... where are the thumb and finger on a mouse?).

If a complex plugins interface window cannot be enlarged and it doesn't have great sounding presets, I am inclined to just get rid of it rather than bumble about with all the bits and dabs. I like to tweak a couple of things and call it good.

 

And so far, I rarely use more than one plugin on a channel. There are exceptions, I will Hi Pass a vocal distortion channel before it hits the amp every time.

I may change on this particular tendency as I learn more about individual plugins and consider how they might sound if combined nicely.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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Thanks to a thread Craig A posted in his forum, I got to poking around a bit and discovered that Waveform 11.5 features a new audio engine.

It is quite an improvement, I could hear the difference in tracks played back on Bill Edstrom's education video between the old engine and the new. The new is cleaner and phases better on multitrack, not "blurry" at all.

 

I was wondering why we went from 11.5 to 11.5.17 in just a few weeks!!!!

 

I've set my audio engine preferences for the latest iteration, which is more efficient and should improve latency.

That said, tonight I was working on an sound for an acoustic electric 12 string running direct and heard a couple of sputters.

Since we will be recording live without headphones it shouldn't matter. I can turn my latency up to a safe level and forget about it for now.

 

I plan to continue going through my plugins, I have a large number of them that I've never listened to at all. I have no objection to thinning the herd down to the ones that I like the best.

The simpler the better, it's long overdue. It will probably take me a few weeks to get through it, so it goes. Once I get one of my installs correct I can save a screen shot for reference and put the other install right fairly quickly.

It took a chunk of my life to get here and I am still not sure where "here" is.
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