A different perspective on Studio One's Project page could unleash its true potential...
A true DAW ninja does not view a feature by its intended use, but by the actual function it performs. The difference is that a functional perspective is more generic, leading to the entire DAW being viewed as a toolbox. So, with this in mind, I am going to take a look at how the Project page can be made to serve beyond the standard mastering scenario for which it was created. These techniques hinge on seeing the Project page in its generic form, as a place where Songs and files are collected into a whole, yet are still individually accessible.
In its most common application, a Project is created when mixes for an album or other work are completed and it is time to bring them together and master the songs into a coherent whole — the album. But why wait until the mixes are done? The Project page makes an excellent access point for songs in progress. Try this:
- As soon as you've done any appreciable amount of work on the first song for the album, create an album Project by pressing Cmd-Shift-N (Ctrl-Shift-N on Windows) or clicking the project button in the upper-right corner of the song page, just above the browser.
- Add the song file to the project by locating it in the Files tab of the Browser and then dragging it into the tracks area, or by choosing the Song / Add to Project command on the song page. Be sure to drag the song file, not an audio file!
- Add each song to the Project as it is created.
- To work on a song, open the Project and click on the song's Edit Song button (with the wrench icon) in the Project page's track list. The song will open and you can continue work on it. Figure 1 illustrates the key components of this method.
- When you finish work on the song for the day, choose Song / Update Mastering File. A bounce of the current state of the song is created and placed in the Project page tracks.
This enables you to instantly open and work on any song you please, or even jump around between them, and, at the end of each day, listen to how the album is progressing. You can even burn yourself a reference CD or create and upload in-progress rough mixes for people to hear on Soundcloud. Hearing each song's evolution in the context of the whole album facilitates sonic consistency in the album. By the time you get to the final mastering stage, the album is already in the ballpark because, as mixes usually do in DAW production, the mastering is evolving as the songs develop.
There's only one fly in the ointment. What if you recorded at a 48kHz (or perhaps higher) sample rate, but your final product is going to be a CD, which has a 44.1kHz sample rate? The easy solution is to create a Project with the same sample rate as the songs. When you burn a CD or make a disk image, Studio One can sample-rate convert to 44.1kHz in the process. No problem.
Ah, but we all know that if things can get more complicated than that, they will. I am working on an album now that has some songs recorded at 44.1kHz and others at 48kHz. What then? Actually, the process turns out to be only a little more complicated:
- Make a Project that has a 44.1kHz sample rate.
- Import all of the song files into it. The 48kHz songs will produce 48kHz mastering files, which will play back correctly because Studio One uses real-time sample-rate conversion on them. This generally sounds good enough while the song is in production. Figure 3 shows a Project with sources of mixed sample rates and types. Notice in Figure 3 that Studio One gives no indication of the differing sample rates.
When all of the songs are finished and you are ready to master, there is one extra step. I have not done a direct comparison in Studio One, but non-real-time sample-rate conversion typically sounds superior to real-time sample-rate conversion, mostly because higher-quality algorithms can be employed when real-time performance is not an issue. For final mastering, we want the highest quality, and we will presume that, since you've been hearing the songs in album context as they were built, editing and mixing are complete and we won't have to go back and edit any of the 48kHz songs any more. Thus we can sacrifice the ability to instantly edit the song in order to gain a mix file at the proper sample rate.
- Go through the 48kHz songs, opening each in turn, choosing Song / Export Mixdown, and exporting them as 44.1kHz mix files.
- Import the 44.1kHz mix files to new tracks in the Project.
- Right-click (or Ctrl-click on Mac) on the song file for each 48kHz song in the Project page track list and choose Disable Track. Now the real-time SRC versions will not be heard or included in final output, but the 44.1kHz mix files will. All of the tracks in the Project are now 44.1kHz files and you can finish mastering.
If, like me, you have a master clock in your studio, it may be easier to switch your interfaces to their internal clocks when you have to go back and forth between a 48kHz song and a 44.1kHz Project, rather than to change the clock setting every time you go back and forth.
The ability to instantly update mixes in a Project file can be used for the common tactic of creating mix variations such as vocal up, vocal down, bass up/down, and so forth.
- Create a Project and add all of the songs to it, as described above. We will assume your mixes are final and you just want to make and evaluate what they, and variations on them, sound like in context.
- Open a song for editing and press Ctrl-Cmd-Shift-S (Ctrl-Alt-Shift-S on Windows) to save a new version. Name it something like "Song name_basic mix.”
- Now make whatever adjustments you want, such as putting the vocal up a dB or two and save another version, named "Song name_vocal up.”
- For each variation you want, choose File / Restore Version, restore the basic mix as your starting point, make the desired adjustments, and save a new version with those adjustments and an appropriate name.
- Once you've made versions for all of the desired variations, your Restore Version list might look something like Figure 4. Next, restore the version you want to hear first. Choose Song / Update Mastering File. A new file will be created and imported into the Project. Now you can hear that version in context with all of the other songs on the album.
- When you want to hear the next variation, go back to the Song page, restore the appropriate version, update the mastering file again, and voila!
- If, for some reason, you need to end up with an audio file of each variation, (perhaps you're taking your mixes to a mastering engineer and are just trying to get them as consistent as possible before going to him) go to the Song page, restore the appropriate version, and export a mixdown of it.
The Project page is also great for delivering 'music minus' mixes (mixes with one target instrument removed) to a musician learning new material from demos. In many cases, it's not even necessary to save versions.
1. Build a Project containing basic mixes of all of the songs to be learned.
2. Open each song in turn and mute the channel for the instrument being removed from the mix. If there are multiple channels used for the instrument (maybe an audio channel for the instrument's recording and a bus channel for its send effects), you will need to mute multiple channels. That might make it worthwhile to save a version. However, if only a single channel is involved, saving a version is probably not worth the trouble; just mute the channel and be done with it.
3. Once the appropriate channel(s) has been muted, update the mastering mix. When you have done this for all of the tunes, you can burn a CD or bounce out files of all the 'music minus' mixes.
4. Repeat steps two and three for each instrument for which you want 'music minus' mixes.
When viewed from a generic functional standpoint, Studio One's tools become even more powerful, not just because one starts to recognise more opportunities to use them, but also because it starts to become natural to think of employing them in combination to solve specific problems that fall outside the usual workflows. A composer orchestrates by conceiving how the characteristics of individual instruments can be brought into play to achieve some musical goal. DAW features can almost be thought of similarly, and applied in ever more creative ways to accomplish interesting and powerful audio tasks.