In Part One, we looked at using the attack control settings on a compressor to ‘soften’ a sound and make it more (or less) present.
In Part Two we unpacked Bruce Swedien’s statement, ‘The groove is in the transient’ as a way to understand that not all transients are created equal.
With this in mind the question that remains is, in what scenarios can fast attack settings be appropriate?
A fast attack setting can be really useful when processing multi-mic’d instruments. A common example is the room mic of a well-recorded drum kit. When processing a room mic it is often desirable to use faster attack settings to ‘soften’ the transients of the sound, making it less present and appear further back in the mix.
This has the net effect of allowing the close mics to really shine by presenting the transient information and groove, while leaving the room mic to add depth and body to the overall drum sound.
Parallel processing is also another time you may want to experiment with faster attack settings, for the same reasons and benefits derived from using faster attack settings on drum room mics. You’d be surprised at how creating a parallel track and applying faster attack settings on the parallel track creates body, space and dimension to a part. All of this is achieved while still allowing the transient information to cut through the mix courtesy of the source track (which would have slower attack settings or no compression at all).
This approach can work great on parallel vocals, bass, guitars, as well as drums.
Left to Right panning is something that is relatively easy to grasp and implement in a mix. However it can also be helpful to think about panning transients. What!? Yeap…panning transients!
Have you ever been in a group photo in which everyone (in hope of their 15 minutes of fame!) rushes towards the front of the picture filling the camera lens with copious amounts of ‘them self’!? Well in today’s digital recording world transients often act in the same way (more on that in the next point).
When all the audio in a mix has been recorded in such a way that the transients are crisp and well defined, it is the sonic equivalent of a group of people rushing towards the camera lens. In such an instance a little ‘crowd control’ is in order! This is where the whole idea of panning transients from front-to-back comes into play.
In the same way a pan knob can send a signal either left or right in the stereo field, fast attack settings are a useful tool to pan a sound front-to-back – sinking a sound further back into a mix. There are of course many ways to achieve this ‘sinking back’ effect each with their own pros and cons, and faster attack settings are just as valid as any other approached when used judiciously.
The questions to ask when considering front-to-back transient panning are: What needs to be present at the front of the mix? What could afford to be sunk further back?
Whilst a topic worthy of a whole series of articles in it’s own right the whole analog vs digital debate is worth mentioning here.
When music is recorded digitally into a DAW through converters (i.e. no analog consoles, compressors, or tape machines in sight!) the problem isn’t making things sound present. It’s the exact opposite! This is because modern digital recording equipment is great at capturing the transient information of an instrument – detail a console or tape machine would have ‘rounded off’ or ‘softened’. As a result you end up with a recording that has pristine and well-preserved (some might say ‘cold’ and ‘hyped’) transients. Come mix time the handling of these transients will now need careful attention if a warm and 3D mix is the desired outcome.
Once again the appropriate use of fast attack settings could be just what the doctor ordered to cure the chilling effects of digititus.
So there you have it. Whilst not appropriate for every situation fast attack settings can be used in unconventional ways to do anything from softening transients that are hyper real to adding dimension to a mix. As with all things the trick is knowing when to use fast attack settings, which is something that comes with trial and error.
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