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Friday, July 6, 2018

#Musicproduction: De-Essing Your Vocals

May Your First De-Esser Be a Manual De-Esser

There's no way around it, at the very least not for me: Probably the most natural-sounding de-esser consists of taking every ess you hear, separating its region from other syllables, and reducing its clip-gain by as many dB as you will get away with. If you are using Pro Tools, the procedure is relatively easy—at the very least, compared to some other DAWs, where hotkeys aren't as developed.
You might like to split the esses out onto another track, but be cautious in how you edit between the 2, because sometimes the audio will “pop” at the conclusion of a sloppily cut phrase.
I use iZotope RX to deal with clip-gain duties, because invariably, I'll notice other things to fix ahead of the mix (de- noising, de-plosive, weird EQ inconsistencies, some basic levelling, et cetera).

After a short time achieving this, you'll begin to identify sibilance by sight; its waveform has a unique shape, almost just like a football. You will also remember that sibilance appears much denser than other forms of waveforms. Soon you will be working relatively quickly, your eyes taking you from ess to ess.
Be forewarned though, this isn't a failsafe against future de-essing
.With regards to the processing you'll employ, you may want to use EQ, dynamics- control, or de-essing plug-ins down the line. It'll, however, sound more natural once you do.

Put a Wide-Band up Front and a Split-Band Later

Whether you've manually de-essed, you might find these workflow helpful. I understand so it certainly works for me.
I'll tend to use two de-essers at different points of the chain, each one working minimally. One will always be the initial processor. The other can come somewhere in the dynamics processing/EQ shuffle, with respect to the vocal. I don't use channel templates (I see them boring), though I can tell you the second de-esser is definitely linked with an EQ: Either I put it after an EQ to tame what I've just done, or before an EQ to safeguard what I might do. This will depend on a host of factors (where the compression comes in—whenever; what the vocal sounds like, and so on). The important thing could be the operational mode of the de-esser.
Most de-essers have wide-band and split-band modes. Wide-band mode affects the totality of the signal, then when its detection circuit hears an ess, it pulls all the audio down.
Split-band mode usually cuts the signal into two frequency bands, and from here, it gets fancy: The reduced band could remain unaffected by the de-essing process, while the larger band receives treatment. In another variant, the low band and the larger band remain untouched, and only the frequencies that you're targeting receive processing.
I like to use wide-band before every other plug-in because, to my ears, it's the closest you are able to arrive at manual de-essing without truly doing it. The 2nd de-esser tends to behave in split-band, since I've already sculpted the human body of my sound in a way most pleasing.
Working this way—with two processors operating gently in various points of the chain—I can achieve a far more natural sound while taming my esses.

A Quick Word on Operation

There are certainly a few approaches to go about de-essing: You are able to audition the sidechain of the de-esser till you hear that which you hate the most; you need to use a frequency bump in an EQ to search for troublesome spots, or slap on a frequency analyzer to visualize the auditioning process. From here, you can set the right range and tweak the threshold, or alternatively, tweak the threshold first, and work your range into the threshold. I tend to accomplish the former, but certain plug-ins can work more naturally with the latter approach.

The Sylvester Effect

What you may do, train yourself to understand when a de-esser sounds forced, because sometimes they are able to trick you—especially after a couple of hours in the mixing chair. An example: In researching perhaps the Eiosis E2Deeser was right for me personally, I came across a YouTube tutorial where user-error caused an unpleasant spitting sound that occurs on particularly strong esses, as although vocalist suddenly became Sylvester the Cat. Incorrect employment of any de-esser can simply cause this type of behavior.
Now, if careful implementation still results in the occasional “Sylvester” effect, read on.

Automate

I don't know about you, but I discover the automation process annoying. Once you're locked into an option, reversing it can be quite a cumbersome process. Still, there often comes a point when you will need to automate the de-esser. Perhaps it is in addition crucial to change the band for a specific phrase. Perhaps you will need to boost the quantity of reduction on an uncommonly strong sibilance, or lower it to prevent the “Sylvester” effect.
In these cases, automation is the friend. I will understand if latch mode feels intimidating for these moves, particularly when you've got your de-esser set perfectly for virtually every other area of the song. So, go ahead and draw your automation in. You've my blessing.

Plug-in Specific Tricks

Definitely, the most effective plug-in I've encounter for de-essing is the FabFilter Pro-DS.Oahu is the least destructive processor, to my ears, and it's some of those rare plug-ins where the presets are truly fantastic.

Other honorable mentions visit the Waves Renaissace DeEsser and the de-essing module in iZotope's Nectar.

I've gotten great results out of UAD's VoxBox, but that is a very specific all-around sound.
FabFilter's Pro-MB multiband compressor can are also made of handy as a de-esser, especially when the offending frequency triggers lower than you'd expect, say between 2.5 and 4 kHz.

Sometimes I come across the following problem: The esses sound fine in top of the registers, but down low, they sound harsh when unprocessed, and cause an all-around lifeless sound when de-essed. Here Fabfilter Pro-MB is my go-to. Its GUI enables you to visualize the ess occurring higher up in the frequency band. From here, you can internally key the offending sibilance from this simply spotted—yet less harsh—ess. If done right, this can work transparently on solo vocals; I've used it when mixing episodes of Startalk Live
, and in many scenes of Hye Yun Park's BKPI.You need to use a sidechain input to utilize this trick with other plugs, but I find Pro-MB to be the most efficient.
Another workflow involves the stand-alone editor in iZotope RX 6 Advanced, which has a powerfully transparent de-esser. I get a lot of mileage from the process in low, repeated doses. I have a tendency to put it to use in Classic mode, rather than Spectral, passing one phrase through at the same time, and threshold on a per-phrase basis. Then, if I do want to control dynamics in ways I find more natural than compression, I run their Leveler module, and use its de-esser in low doses. Now I de-ess a third time, here using Spectral mode if your split-band approach is called for.
I'm knocking off hardly any each time—maybe fifty per cent of a dB, maybe for the most part 1 dB. By the end of the procedure, I've a vocal that doesn't sound de-essed, and doesn't irritate the ear.
You are able to leave out the leveler if you don't need dynamics-taming yet and, conversely, you can manipulate the leveler in order that it's not doing much in the way of clip-gain boosting/attenuating, just affecting your esses. However, you should keep your intended RMS target at heart, otherwise the Leveler provides the complete signal to a volume you didn't intend.