Comp Together

Sonar Tips & Techniques

Published in SOS November 2013
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Technique : Sonar Notes

Craft the perfect take using Sonar X3's new Track Lanes.

Craig Anderton

If you read this month's news pages, you'll know all about the major changes that Cakewalk made to Sonar with the release of X3. Of these, one of the most important is the improved comping implementation that takes much better advantage of the Take Lanes introduced in X2.

Comping (short for 'compositing') tracks is the process of recording multiple takes of a part, and then editing the best sections of each take into a single part. This is usually done via loop recording, so you can 'stay in the groove' as you do the takes. This sounds simple in theory, but in practice, the workflow used to do this editing is crucial to making the process of auditioning, choosing and 'promoting' sections as painless as possible. However, I predict X3's new comping will make some people's heads explode at first, because although the look is similar to what Sonar had before, the tools and procedures are quite different. And if you look at the online Help, you'll see many options that weren't present in previous versions. You can learn those over time, but we'll cut to the chase and describe how to do 'speed comping' — my favourite workflow that involves the updated features.

Comp Recording

First, you need to record several tracks so you can create a final, composite track. Access Record Preferences by right-clicking on the transport Record button or going to Edit/Preferences, and note the new Comping mode button in addition to the familiar Overwrite and Sound On Sound modes (where new takes replace or merge with previous takes, respectively). For loop recording, tick Store Takes in a Single Track, so that all the takes go into Take Lanes within the same track. Initiate recording, and record as many tracks as you like. However, I recommend restricting yourself to fewer than six so you don't end up agonising over individual words in a zillion different takes.

After you've finished recording, if necessary show the takes by pressing Shift-T, or clicking the track's show/hide Take Lanes button toward the track's lower left. Takes are arranged from the most recent at the top (this Lane will also have the highest number in its name, although you can always edit the name) to the oldest at the bottom.Here's what a track looks like after recording three takes.The topmost Take Lane is the last recorded track, the Comp Clip at the top shows a reference view of all overlapping, unmuted takes.Here's what a track looks like after recording three takes.The topmost Take Lane is the last recorded track, the Comp Clip at the top shows a reference view of all overlapping, unmuted takes.

A major visual change is that the parent lane (ie. the track itself), which used to start off blank when unfolded, now shows a 'Comp Clip' that contains no data itself but displays a reference view of all overlapping, unmuted takes. Hiding the Take Lanes also hides the Comp Clip, with the track then acting like any standard track that contains data. However, if you show the Take Lanes again, any edits you made will be reflected in the Take Lane clips. For example, suppose Take 3 provides the end of the comped section. If you hide the Take Lanes, trim the end of the clip, and then show the Take Lanes. Take 3 will now show that its end has been trimmed.

Note that unlike the previous implementation, clips can't overlap in the same Take Lane. If you move a clip into a Take Lane that contains data, the existing data will be overwritten. As before, you can add Take Lanes at any time and record into them. This is useful if you do something like loop-record a bunch of tracks, and find you said the wrong word in every track. You can record a new Take with just the correct word.

Speed Comp Editing

There are many possible comping workflows with X3. The Mute, Split, and Isolate tools work as they did before, so if you had a comfortable workflow using these you don't need to change. For more info on these tools, check out http://sosm.ag/apr13-sonar. However the new Comping tool adds to the functions already available in X2, and although it takes a period of acclimatisation and possibly some head-scratching, it's worth adopting X3's preferred 'speed comping' workflow for maximum effectiveness. However, even using this new method, there are various possible techniques. The following works best for me:

1. Right-click on the Edit tool in the toolbar and select the Comping tool.

2. Isolate each section you want to compare by hovering over any take (not the Comp Clip) until the cursor shows four bars stacked on top of each other (a representation of layers).

3. Drag across each region you want to isolate. This automatically splits all takes at the region boundaries. You don't have to drag within the same take, although the region you drag across will be unmuted in the take you use, while the equivalent regions in other takes will be muted.

4. Click in a region you want to audition (don't drag, just click). Press Shift-Space bar, and that region will loop.

5. Use the Up and Down arrow keys to move up or down among the various takes to determine which one has the best performance.

6. When you find a region you like in a particular take, press Enter. This isolates the region in that take and mutes all other corresponding regions in the other takes. If you decide you want to keep only a portion of the region, drag across it. This will mute the same region in all other takes and create new split points.

7. Use the right arrow key to advance to the next region (or the left arrow if you want to re-vist the previous regions), and repeat steps 5 through 7 until you've chosen the best regions.The takes have been sliced into individual regions that represent, in this case, particular phrases. Defining these slices on one take defines them in all the other takes as well.The takes have been sliced into individual regions that represent, in this case, particular phrases. Defining these slices on one take defines them in all the other takes as well.

Fade Away & Radiate

We're not done yet, as you may need to add some crossfades at region splits. Sonar adds automatic crossfades at the region splits; you can specify a default crossfade time by choosing Edit/Preferences/Customization/Editing. Under Clips, enter the desired crossfade time from 0 to 25 ms in the Auto Crossfade Comps field. However, you may need to increase this default time, which you can do with the Comping tool. Place the cursor over the split point, and it will show a crossfade symbol with left and right arrows. Click-drag up to add a crossfade, using the curve specified under Options/Crossfade Type/Default Crossfade Curves. The further you drag, the longer the crossfade duration will be.When you're done, the highlighted regions will play back, while the grayed-out ones will be muted. Note how the Comp Clip gives a visual overview of the selected regions. The blue bar across the top allows you to drag the clip, bringing all the regions along with it.When you're done, the highlighted regions will play back, while the grayed-out ones will be muted. Note how the Comp Clip gives a visual overview of the selected regions. The blue bar across the top allows you to drag the clip, bringing all the regions along with it.

If you need more fading finesse, then jump over to the Smart Tool and you can trim clip lengths, and add fade-ins and fade-outs, just as you would with any clip. Also, note that the Comping tool has an additional talent: if you place it over a split and click-drag right or left, you'll change the split-point position for all regions, which therefore adjusts the crossfade's center.

Clean-Up Time

Once your have the perfect part, you can keep things as is or tidy up the track. With the Take Lanes showing, right-click on the Comp Clip and choose Flatten Comp. This mixes all the bits and pieces down to a new take, places it at the top so it's displayed as the Comp Clip, locks the clip from further editing (to unlock, right-click on the new Take or the Comp Click and choose Click Lock, then untick Lock Data), mutes all other takes, and enables solo for the flattened take. All the original takes are there so you can always go back and re-edit if you want. You can tidy things up even further by right-clicking on the Comp Clip and choosing Delete Muted Takes, and/or Remove Empty Take Lanes. And if you're confident that your comped track won't need any more editing, you can delete the original Take Lanes by clicking the small 'x' in the lower left of the Take Lane.    .


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