Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It is a loopy world

Effects Loops

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In the recording world their are many types of "loops". Their are loops of beats and sounds that we cut and paste into sequencers and such, but were not talking about those kinds of loops today. Why not take a look into the most common loop that is used in music?

I have used some type of effect loop with each song that I have ever recorded! I use them mostly in my vocal tracks, but that is because my vocals are weak at best. Fact is that these loops can be, and are, used with every type of track that you can think of, and for many of desired effects! What is an effects loop? What can they do for you? Let's dig into this weeks blog entry "It is a loopy world" and find out!

Effect loops are as varied as the types of music that they can be placed into. They can add distortion to a vocal, EQ to a guitar lead, and compression to a bass track, and this is just for starters!

When I first started recording, like many of you, I had the faithful Four Track recorder and a couple of mics. When I got my first reverb unit, I was now in the big time, at least so I thought. Problem was that I plugged my mic directly into the reverb unit, and then directly into the four track recorder. This caused a vocal that was drowning in reverb. My tracks were reverb laden, or what is known as "wet". I tried to make it sound better by lowering the "dry to wet" ratio on the reverb unit, but it still was way too thick sounding.

That is when a friend of mine introduced me to the world of effects loops. My mind was blown! Could the answer have been looking me in the face the entire time? I want to explain effects loops in two different ways, once in the four track use, and the same in Pro Tools use. This will make it easier to digest, and better to understand.

Effects loops (in a nutshell) are a second track that uses a portion or a certain amount of a track, and adds effect to only that portion. What? Look, if you have a vocal on track one, and you want to add delay to it, try using an effects loop. Here is how.

Set up to record your vocal on track one, just as you intend to do. Now, take a "effect send" or a "bus track send" to a second track. This means that you send only a portion of the vocal track and send it to the input of the effect track, which is track two. Track two is nothing but a "wet" track that is plugged into the delay. The only input that track two gets is a trickle of track one, and the output of track two is the vocal portion with a delay added to it. The beauty here is that you can add to or take away from the amount of vocal going to track two, and the amount of delay coming out of track two.

You will be able to add more or less "dry" or "clean" vocal using the track one "effect send" knob or slider, and by the track two's output knob or slider. Yet another way to vary the effect is to adjust the "dry to wet" adjustment on the delay unit itself. This set up is an effects loop, and it is a better sound, with surgical precision of the amount of overall effect that a track gets.
You can send more than one track to an effect loop track too. Imagine recording all of your instruments in a "dry" or reverbless room. It will sound good, but flat and lifeless. Now, if you set up an effects loop, with a reverb unit as the effect, you can send just the right amount of each instrument to the reverb effect loop track, and get a live feel. It will sound as if your band played at the big venue last night.

Here is a simple diagram of the effect loop with a four track set up.

Now, what about using an effect loop with a song in Pro Tools?

It is the same in theory, only the effect send and the effect tracks' volume are harder to find. The "send" part of the main (vocal) track is where it all happens, but first lets set up an effects loop in Pro Tools.

Lets say that track one is your vocal track. You have a mic plugged into the system, and track one is a mono audio track. Before you do much more, create a new (second) track. This track will be another mono track, but with a twist. Make sure that it is a auxiliary input track.
On track one, under the send section, highlight "bus 1" as a send. The slider that is "send volume" is going to be the amount of the vocal that is sent to the effect device of track two, your auxiliary track.

Now, on track two, under the (plug-in) input section, choose "bus 1". Next, were going to choose which effect we want on the vocals of our song. Lets go with a delay. Click on the "input device" and go to effects, and highlight "delay" and then choose one of the delays.

Using the several volume sliders (track ones' "dry" volume slider, bus ones' send volume slider, and track twos' output volume slider) you can dial in that perfect vocal and effect mix. This is how the pros do it, so now you can add one or more tracks to the effect loops that you create, and get professional results!

I have a great book that covers this all, and it is titled "PRO TOOLS for Mac and Windows" ,by Steven Roback, and I simply must recommend that you buy this book. Click on the link to see it and purchase it, as it will make your recording easier and your sound professional too.

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