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I have some instrument plugins that have unfortunately weak attacks -- by this I mean it sounds like they have an ADSR envelope with an attack value higher than I would like, so it makes the instruments sound very sloppy at faster tempos.

If these instruments were all in some sampler plugin, I'd probably be able to adjust the attack or maybe at least change the start time of the sample to give the effect of a stronger attack, but that isn't an option in these plugins.

Is there some technique or method for dealing with this?

Edit:

It would appear that I omitted information that would've been relevant. I am currently fighting this issue with an orchestra plugin, but this is certainly not unique to my orchestra plugin.

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  • I'd say look for a transient shaper plugin - but if the transients aren't really there, it would have nothing to shape.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 17, 2020 at 18:05
  • To you need to play the instrument live, or just recorded? Dec 17, 2020 at 18:46
  • @leftaroundabout Just recorded
    – SirPython
    Dec 17, 2020 at 19:45
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    For many VST instruments I have to move whole recorded regions forward to make them sound in time. This might actually sound more natural than changing the attack. This way you keep the natural attack of the instrument, but have the transient “peak” more in time with the actual rhythmic grid. Dec 17, 2020 at 23:20
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    @Tetsujin It wasn't a detail that I figured was important, but I understand now that it clearly is. It also doesn't happen only to my orchestra plugin, but now knowing that shifting events ahead of the beat is a common technique, I should be able to apply that elsewhere.
    – SirPython
    Dec 18, 2020 at 16:23

3 Answers 3

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The very first thing should of course be trying to tweak the instrument itself. Even if it doesn't have a dedicated “attack” control, there may be other parameters that affect the reaction time, or for orchestral sounds maybe different “playing technique” layers. Many instruments also respond faster when played in the upper dynamic range, so it could help to “play in louder” and then reduce the volume in mix.

If none of that helps, the easiest fix might be to just move the track forward a little, best done by applying “negative delay”. Most DAWs allow you to set this up, or else you can do it with various plugins. It may seem like that shouldn't be possible, but actually it is – protocols like VST have an option to signal how much delay a plugin incurs (typically because of some buffered FFT), and the DAW then automatically compensates by moving the MIDI events earlier under the hood.

Of course, when the sounds start too early, it may also be off-putting. Try first with very little anti-delay – 15 ms may be enough. If the attack is so slow that this is not enough, then the pre-fade-in would probably become untenable. You could trim this back with an additional envelope – i.e. feed the audio signal into another synth plugin that doesn't create sound of its own, only opens up a gate. This will only work if there's no reverb on the track. (But again if “chopping” is an issue you could cheat by duplicating the track and erasing every other note in each copy.)

Another approach I would consider is to leave the sound as-is, but add another faster-attacking one on top of it, feeding from the same MIDI input. There's many combinations you could try here.

Finally, you could artificially change the response of the sound you have: bounce the instrument to an audio track at half speed, then speed up that track again with a time-stretch algorithm like élastique. This will speed up that transients as well – but also any modulation in the rest of the sound; in particular sped-up vibrato can sound very silly.

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Depending on what the instrument plugins are, you could "convert" or "grab" the plugins to samples by recording the sounds note by note and for as many velocity layers and other variations as you like. And then tweak the attacks however you like.

There are automated tools for doing this like

Sampler robots like that basically send MIDI notes to the plugins (or hardware devices), record the output of each note, perhaps try to automatically find loop points, and organize the samples into a sample program.

The resulting sample programs won't be exactly like the originals, because you won't be able to use the same sound manipulation features as the original plugins (or hardware devices). But it'll be better than nothing. And you'll get some kind of a more future-proof snapshot of the sounds, which won't get broken by the next system update.

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  • I figured this would be the only solution, and I'm glad to hear there is software that accomplishes it. Thank you!
    – SirPython
    Dec 17, 2020 at 19:57
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Don't choose a slow-attack sound for playing a fast melody. And don't choose a percussive sound for a pad.

That's it, really. There are a lot more slow-attack sounds in the electronic music world than in 'real' music. Choose them when they do what you need, otherwise don't.

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  • Ideally I have enough instruments that I can make these choices, but unfortunately I don't have many and I really have to work with what I've got. For example, this problem is quite rampant in my orchestra plugin, and I don't have any other orchestral instruments.
    – SirPython
    Dec 17, 2020 at 19:51
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    Perhaps you'd better give us more details of what program, what plugins you use. Dec 18, 2020 at 0:14
  • Sorry about that. I realize now that would've been helpful information. I was more looking for a general answer because it's a problem that I've experience a lot across multiple plugins, and was just now experiencing it again with an orchestra plugin when I decided to ask for help about it.
    – SirPython
    Dec 18, 2020 at 16:25

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