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Transients – Processing for clarity and punch

WARP ENGINES

When working with transient audio in Ableton live if your doing any warping or transposing of the audio then make sure your warp mode is set to beats. Usually it’s fine to have this set to complex or complex pro however in the case of drum track containing large transients we strongly advise setting it to beats as this will preserve the attack portion of the audio to ensure it still hits hard regardless of the warping and transposition applied to it.

Warp modes in Ableton Live

SHARP STEREO TRANSIENTS

Many producers may think that duplicating sharp transients in the left and right channels will add clarity to the sound however this is not the case. When we hear a sound Our ears will be seeking to place the sound within the stereo spectrum.

Having a sharp transient in the centre of the mix as well as duplicate sharp transients in the side mix will result in the listener being confused as to where the sound is coming from. Further to this, many producers will often add a slight delay to the left or right channel in an attempt to widen the sound even further which will also lead to transient smearing and confusion.

To rectify this problem we need to split the mid and side information so we have two separate audio files. We can now apply a transient shaper to dull down the initial attack transient of the side audio or we can use a gentle fade. This signal can then be blended back into the mid audio file. This softening of the side transients will help bring focus and clarity to the main attack transient.

Splitting the mix down into the left, centre & right channels.

Using a transient designer plugin to manually reduce the transients in the side mix.

TRANSIENT SPLITTING

Sometimes it’s necessary to treat the transient of a sound separately to the body of a sound. To do this we will need to first split the sound at its transient. If we zoom in on a waveform we can see where the rougher higher frequency transient meets the lower frequency body or tone of the sound. We want to find a zero crossing point at this location to cut the sound. The reason we do this at a zero crossing point is to avoid any pops or clicks occurring.

Overview of the waveform showing the transient of a kick drum followed by the low-end body.

Zoomed in on the same kick drum showing the zero crossing point closest to the end of the transient and the start of the body. This is where we slice the audio to reduce pops & clicks.

Now that we have separated the sound into its two constituent parts we can now load some effects on to the attack transient. To help it stand out we can increase the harmonic content in the transient using distortion, saturation, EQ Gain or a mixture of all three. We should also run a compressor or limiter to ensure we don’t clip the volume on our channel.
Once these effects have been applied we can then mix the signal back in to the tone transient. It’s important to mention here that the tone transient may need some slight tonal adjustments to ensure that it still fits with the freshly processed transient.

If your having issues getting the transient and tone to sit right then this may be due to changes in phase caused by plugins such as EQ. A good remedy for this is to bounce the transient file down to a new audio file so that all the effects are rendered down. We can now zoom in to the very end of the transient file to see how the phase relationship has changed. From here we can now make some fine tuning adjustments by trimming the waveform. we can also add a very small fade to eradicate any more pops, clicks or artifacts.

When we want certain transients to stand out in the mix it’s important that these transients aren’t overshadowed by anything else. This means that we need to be extra careful when placing new sounds in our arrangement. Try to avoid putting multiple hits at any one point in time. If however this is unavoidable (kicks, snares, claps and hats for example) then we can rectify this in a few different ways. Firstly we don’t have to worry ourselves too much if these sounds occupy different frequency Ranges. The kick and the high-hat transients can easily be EQ’ed so as not to interfere with one another.

So our main area of concern are sounds with similar frequency content. Firstly We need to make a decision which sound should be more dominant in the mix, once we have made this decision we can either apply side-chain gating or compression to duck the less dominant transient out of the way to allow our main transient to cut through the mix. Getting your attack and release times right are paramount to ensuring that the dominant transient gets through whilst still retaining the tone of the less important sound. Remember you don’t have to cut this transient out completely, simply reduce its dominance in the mix. The same result could also be achieved with a transient designer such as Native Instruments Transient Master.

To be even more precise we could use Dynamic EQ to notch out the opposing frequencies for a very brief moment of time. This can be done with a parametric EQ and careful automation or by using an envelope follower to modulate the gain of multiple EQ bands set to opposing frequencies.

TRANSIENT SHAPING & A-B COMPARISONS

When using any form transient designers, it’s important that the output volume after the plugin is the same as the input volume, otherwise your ears may be tricked into thinking that the drums sound better when in fact all you have done is add volume. You can either do this manually using your ears or by placing some form of metering plugin either side of the transient designer.

SIDE-CHAINING

If your using reverb then you will want to check that the reverb tails done cross over into the next drum hit as this will interfere with the transient. If however your using a washy reverb and want it to wash over then consider using a side-chain to duck the reverb out of the way of the transient. Compressors with fast attack times often cause distortion but reducing the attack time will mean that the reverb isn’t being ducked in time for the drum hit.

To combat this either use a look-ahead or make sure your side-chain trigger feeding the compressor is nudged forward by a few milliseconds. This will ensure that the compressor is triggered in time for the compression to take full effect before the drum hit sounds.

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