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Over the last few years, we've uploaded hundreds of audio examples to illustrate the techniques we write about here at O'Reilly Digital Media. In our new podcast series, Digital Media Insider, we'll dip into that vault to share the stories behind the sounds.

This week we go behind the scenes of our recent article "The Top 20 Plugins for Musicians and Songwriters," by songwriter and Pro Tools guru Gina Fant-Saez. Listen along as Gina transforms a dust-dry vocal into a gorgeous soundscape by chaining four cool effect plugins, and then builds a song from scratch using only virtual instruments. (DMI 09-07-2006: 9 minutes 23 seconds)

Production Notes

Gina produced her two audio clips in Pro Tools and sent them to me via YouSendIt.com, an ad-supported file-transfer service. I edited them in BIAS Peak, and then imported them into Ableton Live, where I arranged them around my voiceover and background music. (See screenshot.) I then rendered the mix to a WAV file and converted it to an MP3 in Peak.

I recorded the voiceover directly into Peak, using a handheld AKG D3900 mic through an ART Tube MP preamp into the line input on a PowerMac G5. (Surprisingly, the Mac has better audio performance than my external USB audio interface.) After snipping out some P-pops and false starts, I compressed and enhanced the voiceover with Izotope Ozone—in retrospect too much! That'll teach me to mix on headphones late at night....

The background music came together in Live as well. I made the opening sound effect by splicing a compressed mouth noise onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan. Then there are a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, the mix took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.

Ableton Live Arrangement

The final podcast arrangement had five stereo tracks. The red lines reflect manual "ducking" to drop the background music behind the voiceover.

David Battino is the audio editor for O’Reilly’s Digital Media site, the co-author of The Art of Digital Music, and on the steering committee for the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IASIG). He also writes, publishes, and performs Japanese kamishibai storycards.


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