Test Drive: Riding the Wild Gain: Waves' Vocal Rider

by Steve Cunningham

Let’s talk dynamics, particularly voiceover dynamics. Depending on the script and personalities, a record session for a high-energy promo can run the gamut from well-behaved to completely out of control -- think morning zoo, then add Starbucks Americanos with several extra shots in each. If you’re the engineer/producer, how do you keep a handle on levels during a freewheeling VO session under those circumstances? I know what I do... whenever possible, I put fingers on faders and move ‘em to keep things as level as possible while recording. That’s right, I ride gain as best I can. I’ve been fortunate to get occasional work recording and editing dialog for videogames. Gain-riding the vox fader is mandatory when recording fighting games where vocal reactions to being hit by an opponent are interspersed with taunts. Gotta do it to keep from clipping the track! The same can be true in a VO session with talent whose mic technique is less than stellar.

Waves, one of the more innovative makers of audio plug-ins, has automated a process that some of us have been doing manually for quite awhile. Vocal Rider is a cross-platform plug-in which actually rides the fader for you in real time, and writes its movements as automation data info directly into your audio editor’s session. The benefit is that your track keeps all the original dynamics of the performance, and should you want to compress after all, you can do so more gently since much of the job is already done.

The benefit of riding gain is that the sound doesn’t change at all; it just gets softer or louder. However, while riding one fader can be a challenge, riding multiple faders can quickly become an exercise in futility. That’s when most of us reach for a compressor or even a limiter to do the job for us. But even compressors with little character of their own will change the sound, because at minimum they’re altering the dynamic range -- the difference between the loud and soft -- by making the loud parts softer.

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