At the end of this segment you will have a Damn Fine De-Esser. In lieu of filling gaps in your singer’s teeth with pieces of Silly Putty, this will yield consistently awesome results. Bear with me, because I’m sick as hell and my head feels like it’s underwater.
This thing will also net you a 3-band crossover, which is useful for all kinds of stuff. Let’s build it!
1. Grab a Multiband Dynamics device. Group it to a Rack. You can turn off dynamics processing on all three bands to save on CPU usage–we’re just using the filters here. Solo the High band. Map the Mid/High crossover frequency to Macro 2 of your Rack. It should look like this:
2. Name that chain something awesome like “High and Tight.” Duplicate it twice. Now you’ve got three chains in your rack and the rest should be pretty self-explanatory. The Mid band will have both the High/Mid and Mid/Low crossover points mapped to macros, the Low band will have only the Mid/Low freq mapped. Name everything well so that you don’t get confused. Solo the appropriate bands on each Multiband Dynamics device and try it out! When you solo a chain in this Rack, you should get only the signal from that frequency range, and the crossover-frequency macros should allow you to tune this to your liking. When all the chains are on, signal should pass through unaffected. Good? Let’s make it better.
3. Throw a Utility device on the Low band and map the “Width” parameter to another macro (0% – 100%). Now this is becoming a really useful tool! This is a really easy way to “mono-fy” the low frequencies of a sound without sacrificing any stereo imaging in the mids and highs. Hide the chains and save this Rack in your Library and you’ll find that it comes in handy quite often. You can start thinking in terms of applying effects only to certain frequency ranges, allowing you to do cool stuff like distorting the shit out of a synth bass without losing any clarity in the low end, or putting a gentle slap delay on the mids of a vocal without muddying up the highs or lows.
4. Now to the de-essing portion: Why bother with this rack? Because when you apply gain reduction with a broadband compressor, the entire signal is attenuated. Normally this is fine, but for this application, the type of response we want on sibilant peaks is way different than what we want for the rest of the signal. So if we tune the high band to include all of our ssssss’s and not much else, we can squish it as much as we want without compromising the rest of the vocal. Drop a compressor in the high band, activate the EQ sidechain key, flick the blue monitor switch on and tune the freq and Q until you’ve carved out an incredibly annoying notch. Now turn off monitor (flipmode yeeeah!) and start making your cuts…higher threshold with high ratio is good for brash pop vocals, a lower threshold with a gentler ratio for subtler, more dynamic sounds. You’ll find that you can get an incredible amount of very transparent gain reduction with this technique.
Have you ever done that thing where you use a broadband compressor to de-ess a vocal performance and you make the cuts so deep that it sounds like the performer has a mouthful of cottonballs? This works great for hip-hop. Make a “laff trax” b-side with a super-steep ratio and ride the threshold until it sounds like the vocalist is rapping with their tongue in a pair of doctors’ tongs and no matter how serious or tough the subject matter is, they will sound ridiculous and if they don’t laugh at it, you should ask yourself whether it’s worth working with them.