As a musician, you will recognize all the instruments and the way they are played all contribute to the dynamics of a song. But for the non-musician listener, the general public, there tends to be one element of a song that takes priority. The vocal of a song is far more important to the general listener than what EQ you used on the piano or even how much reverb you put on the percussion. So in this tutorial I'm going to go through some processing ideas to make the vocal standout, and how to make it a cleaner and more immediate presence in the mix. Here's a rough vocal line recorded already for the middle section of the song. If we open the Sample Editor, we can see there are background noises recorded as well as the actual vocal itself. We need to clean this up. There are two schools of thought though. If we remove all the background noises, then arguably we lose some of the performance. Therefore I want to remove only the sections that don't contribute to the vocal itself. I could do this strictly in Cubase's Sample Editor like this, but I prefer to use Steinberg's companion audio editor, WaveLab. I'll just undo this and move over to WaveLab. Sadly you can't access WaveLab directly from within Cubase 5 as you could've done in earlier versions of the program. Let's hope this gets reintroduced soon. Right, here we are in WaveLab with the vocal file open. Incidentally if you prefer to work strictly within Cubase, you can do. The techniques I use here on the whole are the same as in Cubase. OK, I'll zoom into the start of the file and highlight this section, and by holding Control and pressing my Space bar on the PC, a totally silent section replaces the background noise. It's only a short file so I'll quickly go through it all to clean up any background hiss. Obviously the better the quality of the recording, the more sonic detail and clarity you will get. It might seem extreme why I'm doing this, but it really does give a cleaner, crisper recording. On longer files I would use a noise gate to do this technique, but it's a matter of seconds to go through this file. Now when I reach the end here, I might as well delete this section instead of silencing it because even though there's no sound, Cubase will still play back the whole file, silence and all. The less we give Cubase to do, the more we can expect to run additional tracks or plug-ins without causing too much CPU overload. So I'll highlight it and delete it. I'll click here to go to the start of the file. I won't delete the dead space at the start of the file though because Cubase won't recognize where to indent the vocal. It will simply use the actual start time of this file without the space, and the vocal timing will be out by about 720 milliseconds if we just zoom in here and we have a look. What I want to do now is increase the overall level of the file. By highlighting it all and pressing N on my PC, the Normalize dialog box opens and I can see that the file won't go any louder without digital distortion occurring. So back at the Main view I can see the file only has a couple of loud spikes in volume here and in particular here. Well here's what we could do to improve this. I could zoom into the sections like this and potentially marginally reduce the volume. I could highlight this section and press Alt plus G on my PC to lower the gain by a couple of decibels, and I could do the same her also. But there is a quicker way, especially if you have a longer file than this. It would take a long time to go through every section like that, so there is a quicker way. Highlight the whole file by clicking Control plus A. Now go here to Process and click on Loudness Normalizer. Effectively what this does is increase your quieter sections while keeping your peaks at the same point, in our case zero decibels. I'll ensure my max peak level is set to zero decibels here. Yes it is, good. Here at the top is where the magic happens. If you click on this button, WaveLab analyzes your file and informs you of the average volume level. So if you want to increase the average volume level, we just need to make this number closer to zero. I'll only increase it by a couple of decibels. Notice the wave form automatically increases like a compressor had done its work. Right, ideally I'll make this minus 10 decibels. I'll just check if I've got a minus 10 decibels preset. No. Hmm, OK, I'll do it manually. Now I'll click Render to process the file and make the overall level louder. See the Wave view increase? Good, I'll just close it. Now that I'm looking at this, I could redo it and make it even louder, but I think I'll leave that for my compressors later. If I want to add a compressor, I do it here in a very similar fashion to Cubase's Effects racks. To save time in this tutorial, I'll play around with some compression to increase the volume further whilst you take a break.
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