Another Way to Skin an FX Send

Modern digital audio workstations offer a plethora of ways to solve your mixing and routing problems. Inspired somewhat by Craig Anderton’s latest column in Sound on Sound, I discovered a new way to apply reverb selectively to multiple tracks, in Cakewalk By BandLab using the Sonitus Reverb VST. Here’s my use case:

I have Lead and Backing vocal tracks, and I want to apply a long-tail reverb to portions of the verse and chorus phrases. (The main sustained notes provide a wash of reverb in the background, but keeping it clean and un-muddled by fricatives and fast syllables.)

In the past I have created a “VOX FX” Buss, put an instance of Sonitus Reverb on it, and directed it to feed the “VOX” main buss. Finally, I add a Send on each vocal track to feed the VOX FX, and use “Send Level” automation on each track:

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This works well, and allows the automation curves to be adjusted per-track.

But what if you have more than two tracks, and per-track envelopes isn’t needed? Could there be a way to send audio to the reverb using a single automation curve? I experimented with using an Aux track, intending to add a send on each vocal track to the Aux track, then use the “Automated Send To FX Buss” trick described above.

However, I realized that I could simplify things by putting the reverb effect on the Aux track itself, and then automating the “VST Input Level” instead:

From the Edit Filter selector (displaying “Clips” by default) we can drill down into the Sonitus Reverb and select “Input” from the automation choices:

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Now we can draw the automation envelope (only one is needed) to control the amount of audio from all tracks being processed by the reverb:

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This gets the job done, and no need for a general purpose fx buss.

As I mentioned above, there are good reasons NOT to do it this way – but it is nice to have the option.

Cakewalk is dead; Long Live SONAR

My Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) of choice is Cakewalk’s SONAR. In 2017, Cakewalk (formerly Twelve Tone Systems) were celebrating their 30th year in business. Over the years, the “Cakewalk” MIDI sequencer evolved to support digital audio and matured to became a very capable music production environment. Eventually the company took the name of its flagship sequencer, and the DAW continued under the “SONAR” name.

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I first encountered Cakewalk Pro Audio in 1994 when my wife-to-be (long story) sent me a copy. I think it was version 5. It very quickly replaced Passport’s Master Tracks Pro * as my studio workhorse, especially after digital audio recording features were added. I’ve been a loyal, paid-up user ever since.

In 2008 the company was effectively acquired by Roland, which in 2013 subsequently sold their shares to Gibson.

In November 2017, Gibson effectively killed the company by stopping ongoing development and reducing the staff to the minimum required to keep the servers running.

We can guess that Gibson may have tried to find another owner for the company, and failed; or perhaps just decided that it was better to write it off as a loss for this financial year.

Either way, we’re not going to see any updates to the SONAR product in the foreseeable future, despite the fantasies being spun out by some on the user forum.

The company website still exists, and you can find links to “Buy SONAR” but they all eventually lead to the cease-of-business announcement and the statement that new purchases are no longer possible. Documentation and downloads of historical updates and resources are, for the moment, still available. You’d have to be an idiot to think that this will always be so, however.

So where does that leave folks like me?

  • Switch to another brand of DAW, immediately
  • Stay with SONAR for the time being

I think I’m totally in the second group. If I were to switch, it would be to PreSonus Studio One, because I already own it (I use it for the excellent Project page for mastering).

Negatives:

  • If you’re not happy with 2017.10, well, you’re out of luck waiting for changes.
  • A re-install will require access to online authentication servers (at least until a promised work-around is made available).
  • If you find an existing bug that doesn’t have a work-around, you’re out of luck getting it addressed.

Positives:

  • It’s not like SONAR is going to suddenly stop working;
  • No new features means no new bugs;
  • As far as we know, there aren’t any existing show-stopper bugs without workarounds;
  • Total mastery of the software is possible; current techniques won’t become obsolete;
  • We can finally create an up-to-date knowledge base of tips, tricks, and workarounds.

I don’t regret the time or money I’ve invested in Cakewalk SONAR up until this point. To throw up my hands and abandon it? That would be throwing away that investment. So for now, call me a happy SONAR user.

Onward, and create!

* Oh my goodness, they are still a Thing.

Telling V-Vocal what default parameter values to use

V-Vocal is a monophonic audio editing plugin developed using Roland technology, integrated into the SONAR product. It was packaged with Cakewalk SONAR from about version 5 or 6. The last version that included it was SONAR X2.

V-Vocal has been compared unfavorably to other "vocal editor" software such as the better known Melodyne or Antares Autotune, but it is actually a very capable tool when used judiciously.

V-Vocal still works in SONAR X3, although due to a change in company ownership, it is no longer part of the SONAR installation. However, if you have previous versions of SONAR installed, V-Vocal will be available. In fact, in my opinion, ironically V-Vocal works better in X3 than in any previous version of SONAR.

However, some quirks remain, and one of them is the default values used for several of the editing parameters. I'm always having to remember to adjust the FORMANT parameter in particular, every time the V-Vocal window is launched.

These default values can be changed, though, through some careful editing of an arcane .INI file. All credit for this hack goes to Tom Parker for this post on the SONAR user forum in December 2006.

I'm going to copy the instructions here for quick access, and in case the post is removed from the forum or lost in the cloud:

1. First, make a backup copy of the file C:\Program Files\Cakewalk\Shared Dxi\Vvocal\Skin\VVocal.INI

2. Then edit the original VVocal.INI file

3. Starting at line 130 you'll see a section "Display 8 ( Formant Control )".
   There are 3 values (on 2 lines) that need to be changed.
   Recommended: Change them all from 100 to 0:

   a) Ctrl181 3rd value (Value if you double click in the "PITCH FOLLOW" graphic dial center)
   b) Ctrl181 17th value (Initial value for the graphic dial)
   c) Ctrl183 17th value (The critical Initial value; this will be displayed in the box below the dial)

4. Save the changes, and re-start SONAR.