Recently we have been introduced to 5.1 surround-sound and I think the name should be changed to Five Point Fun! The things you can do with these extra channels is amazing and we have literally just scratched the surface of what this set-up has to offer.
Let’s have a quick tour of what I did in today’s session.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived in the studio was that the monitors were all over the place and not equidistant to the “sweet-spot” (equidistant just means that all the reference monitors are the same distance from your ears) so that was the first thing I sorted out. After a quick trip down the hallway to the supervisor’s office and after borrowing their tape measure, I was on my way to equidistant paradise. Once the monitors were all the same distance away I realised that they were not all at the same height, so sometimes you have to be creative and improvise, adapt and overcome. To solve the problem of height I made my way to the library and hired out the fattest books I could find, which were on topics that interest me as well so “two birds, one stone” came into play. Placing the books under the monitors in question fixed the problem but made me think about what our facilitator Guy Gray said last week about optimising the environment to get the best workflow you can. The c24 clearly isn’t optimised for 5.1 but is very close and with a few minor tweaks like I have mentioned above is a fantastic little studio to work in.
Once the monitors were where they should be it was time to start thinking about a Pro Tools session. This morning I printed some MIDI sequenced tracks to .wav’s for the purpose of mixing in 5.1, nothing too intense, just ten stereo tracks that were one minute in length. In PT, I went to the I/O setup and checked that the session was outputting correctly (SMPTE), which meant having this order;
Left, Right, Centre, LFE, Left Surround, Right Surround (L,R,C,LFE,LS,RS)
Once the I/O was set up I created a 5.1 master fader and routed the outputs of the audio tracks to it, when you do this you will see the panning matrix pop up and it is time to start getting creative. Because of the nature of surround there are two main ways that people mix music in 5.1 (there are no real rules however, just methods) either from the audience perspective or on-stage, so it feels like you are with the performers in the band. The tracks that I had used for mixing were orchestral tracks so I thought what the heck, let’s get up on stage with the ensemble! I mixed from the perspective of being in the second-violin section of the orchestra, about halfway back and close to the middle of the stage. This meant I sent the drums to the rear monitors, centred the bass, had the choir to the sides and let the brass and string melody rip through the centre. I know that this isn’t exactly like an orchestral set up but hey, it’s art and sometimes complete realism isn’t what we are going for, also I wanted to test myself with 5.1 and see what was possible.
A brilliant little trick that Guy showed us was to create a 20/40 delay, which is a stereo delay with the left side delay at 20ms and the right side at 40ms. This gives the impression of the sound being in a space, livens up the signal and adds character but more importantly is a way of creating a mic that was never there to begin with. The 20/40 delay or “20/40 room” turns a signal into something that sounds like it was recorded with an XY configuration and works because the human brain perceives the separation of sound at around 20ms. For my mix today, I found that the drums were a little lifeless so I made up a 20/40 delay on an aux track, sent the drum signal to it and voila, it worked a treat, giving the drums the “something” that they were missing.
me? LFE? LFE stands for Low frequency Effects and is just a fancy name for a sub. I hadn’t noticed until halfway through my session that the LFE wasn’t working and did what we do best…check if it was turned on! After seeing that it was on I had to think about why I wasn’t getting any signal (there is an easier way to get signal to the LFE than I am about to describe but I may as well talk you through the method I used today). I created another aux track and sent the double-bass to it, then I made the output of the aux track send to main.LFE. I also inserted a low pass filter on the aux track with a cut off of 120Hz. This is a convoluted way of doing things and probably not ideal, the easiest way to send a signal to the LFE is to just hit one button on the routing matrix but I couldn’t seem to find it and only remembered about it when I got home (next time gadget!).
It was a fun day and I am looking forward to spending a lot more time in the C24 working on surround sound. The way the audio washes over you is amazing and really immerses you in the sound. Super-keen!