5 Ways to Humanize Virtual Instruments - YouTube

30 October 2017 in Motion -

Thinking Inside the Box on YouTube.

Virtual Instrument Tips on YouTube.

Hi, welcome to an episode of “Thinking Inside the Box” on Noah’s Ark. In the video, I’m going to show you 5 different ways to humanize a Virtual Instrument, in other words make it sound more like a real recorded instrument.

A lot of times, I find myself using Virtual Instruments that emulate keyboards that I do not own and cannot afford. Sometimes I struggle to make them sound less clinical and perfect but I will show you how I go about adding imperfections and human spirit into their performances.


1. Avoid Quantization

First of all, I would urge you all to avoid quantization whenever possible. Even if you have recorded the backing track using a click, chances are the instruments are not exactly on the grid anyway and a lot of parts will be actually following the drum groove.

And this is not a bad thing! It allows for the song to breath and fluctuate so when you capture the performance of a Virtual Instrument, it is also important to keep those imperfections as this will matter in the final product.

However, I would still suggest double checking latency issues if you have any while capturing MIDI and shifting the whole performance in the timeline if necessary as this will impact the overall feel.


2. Record Dry

A lot of VIs will come will presets that add a ton of effects including reverb, delay and chorus. Although these add character to the sound, chances are they may not be of the highest quality processing on these VI hosts.

And even if they are sublime during solo auditioning, I would suggest turning them off and recording the signals dry as they may interfere with other reverbs applied onto the overall mix. If you consider that all VIs on your track could end up with their own separate reverbs, the track may end up muddy quite quickly.

As I tend to use only one or two reverbs per track in order to unify the physical space in which the mix is happening, I like to apply these same reverbs on the VIs to add cohesion to the mix.


3. Tape Saturation

Another way to remove some digital clarity out of these VIs is to use tape emulation in order to add some analog mojo to the signals. Tape saturation can significantly change the tone of certain keyboard emulations and with its inherent wow and flutter, tape processing can help to create irregularities in the performance.

I like to use a simple UAD Oxide or UAD Studer A800 at the end of the plugin chain in order to suppress the clinical nature of these Virtual Instruments.


4. Low Pass Filter

When using orchestral instruments as VIs, chances are the samples are far from resembling their real counterpart. And this is mainly due to the clarity of the higher frequencies that give away their virtual nature instantly as well as the articulations and attack/release samples.

One efficient way is to apply a low pass filter on these samples in order to suppress the hints that tell our brains of their real identity. This will also have the effect of placing the source further back on the mix plane which will in turn help to hide the unpleasant quality of the samples.


5. Remiking

Finally, I will show you my favorite way to process VIs and by far the most realistic technique. It’s called reamping or remiking and there are two ways to do that.

Either you have a reamp box, a nice room and an amp in which case you can send the VI signal to the amp and re-record the signal by sticking a microphone in front of the speaker cone. This will add the natural room characteristics to the Virtual Instrument signal and you can also optionally distort the signal.

Or you use a remiking plugin called UAD Ocean Way Studios. This amazing plugin will allow you to put any audio source through the legendary rooms of LA’s Ocean Way Studios and let you re-record the ambience using classic mics from their expensive mic locker. Every time I need keys to sound lively, I can count on this plugin to give depth and dimension to my VIs.

So that’s it for humanizing virtual instruments in the DAW.

To find out more about humanizing virtual instruments, you can watch the video above or on YouTube here.


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