Riding the Fader on a Musical Performance

Hello. My name is Mark Galang, and I’m here today to talk about riding the fader on a musical performance. This piece has been written in compliance with the peer-reviewed assignment requirement for the course “Introduction to Music Production” by the Berklee College of Music, hosted for free by Coursera.org.

Nothing is more satisfying than hearing a musical performance by humans. However, as much as we’d like human performance to be perfect, it is far from from being one. While the quirks of a live performance may sometimes be tolerated, studio recordings usually are more demanding. Therefore we use a couple of processes here and there to somewhat address imperfections, and one of these techniques is riding the fader. Riding the fader aims to Control dynamics over a recorded audio track in an effort to achieve some sort of balance I.e. to decrease volume of sections that are too loud and increase sections that are too soft. To demonstrate how to do this, I have opened up a project in Cakewalk Sonar 11, and I will be manipulating the bass track.

To start riding the fader, I have to enable automation write first by clicking on the W button on the bass track. You’ll notice that it would turn red as soon as I click on it. Once that’s been accomplished, I can now start recording automation once I press play or record. Let’s begin.

1. Opening a Project

01-Opening a Project and Selecting Bass Track

For this assignment, I have used the same project I recorded for the previous piece (How to Prepare a Project and Record Audio in a DAW). I selected the bass track for this particular task.

2. Enabling Automation Write

02-Enabling Automation Write

To start actually recording volume fader movements (“riding the fader”), I clicked on the small button that looks like a “W”. It’s the automation write button. Once it turns red, I know that it has been enabled and I could then start recording fader movements after I hit the play or record button.

3. Riding the Fader

03-Riding the Fader

I started playing back the project and then manipulated the volume fader so that Cakewalk Sonar would begin recording my fader movement. Generally, I try my best to follow the shape of the waveform to somewhat preserve the actual dynamics I recorded during performance. I was aiming to somewhat reduce the amplitude of sections I felt I had played too loud.

4. Editing the Volume Envelope

04-Editing the Volume Envelope

Once I have recorded the volume fader movements, I can now see that Cakewalk Sonar has generated a volume envelope with nodes that I can move around. If I want to make adjustments to the envelope, I can just move the nodes either upwards to increase volume or downwards to decrease.

Upon completing the task of riding the fader, I realized that it is far from perfect. I was just using the mouse to perform this task and I think I would have achieved better results if I had a control surface connected to my DAW. I think that it would take me a while to edit the nodes in the automation that I wrote. I was not happy with the result. In the end, I decided to scrap my work and I would try another time to ride the fader (or perhaps use a compressor plugin).

I do think that riding the fader is a skill that takes as much precision as playing an instrument. It demands careful listening and practice to achieve good results without resorting to editing the envelope later. I’m not surprised that compressors were developed to automate this process.

I hope that this short piece has helped you in understanding how to control dynamics in musical recordings through riding the fader. If you have any comments, feedback or constructive criticism for me regarding this post, please let me know. I would be happy to read them as I would like to further improve myself. Thank you very much for your time and attention.

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