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The Commitments

Leader By Paul White
Published October 2018

What I’m going to talk about this month is nothing new, but it is something that we all lose sight of from time to time — I know I’ve done it too many times. Perhaps we should pay more attention to the benefits of creating a suitable sound and then sticking with it rather than, for example, recording a dry guitar part and then spending hours trying out different amp models and effects.

Paul White in his studio, 2017.The benefits of committing to a sound right from the start were brought into focus when I found myself reviewing the Boss RV‑500 reverb pedal. Like so many modern reverb pedals, this one produces both real and abstract reverb effects including the familiar slow attack, reverse and shimmer sounds. While all these effects can be reproduced using plug‑ins, the actual playing experience is very different depending on the effect you’re using — the effect makes you play in a certain way. If you choose the ‘let’s change it using plug‑ins’ route, you lose that connection between the performance and the effect that gives it context. This is especially true with something like a slow‑attack effect. Just as when you play a slow attack string part, you tend to play slightly ahead of the beat to keep the timing natural, the same thing happens when you play a guitar part through something that affects the envelope of the sound. If you DI the guitar clean and then apply the effect, the result isn’t the same.

Of course the other benefit of committing to a sound right from the start is that you save a huge amount of time, allowing the project to keep rolling forward rather than losing momentum every time you go on a plug‑in fishing expedition. It is also good for musical discipline because it makes you concentrate more on your vision for the piece at the start rather than leaving everything fluid until the last minute. To this end it’s not a bad plan to bounce MIDI instrument tracks as audio files to discourage further major tinkering — you can still use EQ and reverb if a minor tweak is needed. Working this way also reduces your CPU overhead as well as leaving your project in a form that can more easily be revisited when your software synths are no longer supported or your hardware ones long gone.

If you ever wondered why your three‑piece band needs 120 DAW tracks when so many legendary albums were made on a 24‑track tape machine, perhaps the answer is that in the days of tape there was no other choice than to commit — and maybe that’s the secret ingredient, rather than the mechanics of tape itself?

Published October 2018