Adapting The Studio Grand For Rock & Electronic Music
Straight out of the box, the Studio Grand module of XLN Audio's Addictive keys is a paragon of lushness, the perfect way for wistful singer-songwriters to beguile their rainy afternoons. However, very different grand piano timbres have also had a long and illustrious career in the rhythm sections of high-energy rock and dance music, and Studio Grand also has much to offer in these realms, once you dive into the Edit Page and get to grips with those internal parameters.
The Instrument Settings area at the top left-hand side of the interface is a good place to start, and the first thing I'd suggest is pulling down both the Sustain controls. You see, when the piano's the 'star', as it might be in an intimate jazz trio or a pop piano ballad, you want all the sustain complexity and fullness you can get. Put it into a more rhythmic role, though, and you need maximum attack and pitch clarity without hogging too much space in the mix. I'd pull down the Pedal Noise parameter all the way too, as niceties like that won't be heard in a busy rock mix, and will just muddy the mix as a whole.
The ‘Vel>Sample’ slider to the right-hand side of the Sustain controls is your next port of call. Under normal piano-playing conditions, quieter piano notes sound smoother too, but if your piano is fighting against a legion of electric guitars and synths, then it makes much more sense to retain a good deal of the tonal brilliance for all notes. Otherwise you'll lose the details of its riffs and rhythmic vamping. So grab the left-hand arrow in the ‘Vel>Sample’ display and drag it upwards. (For the sake of musicality I'd personally not pull it all the way up to 100% unless I wanted an old-school 'happy house' piano!) While you're up at the top of the window, quickly click on the Sample Playback section's Filter tab too, and switch that off completely so you get all the bite of the instrument's upper harmonics.
The other areas I'd concentrate on are the Microphone Selection and Mixer zones. For a start, I'd immediately switch off the Ambient Tube microphones. They sound lovely for classical solos, but take up way too much space in a rock mix. (You might also want to mute the FX channels for similar reasons, or at least swap out any reverbs for less delay effects to reduce mix clutter.) As for the close mics, the ribbon-mic options will likely prove too cloudy-sounding for this application, while both the Middle Tube and Ambient Tube options will likely be less suitable on account of their wide, decorrelated stereo image. Wide stereo is a lovely thing in the right context, but in high-energy commercial music arrangements, where space is at a such premium, the more focused image of the Close Tube option will usually fit the mix more easily. Plus, that mic setup's better mono compatibility makes it more mass-market friendly. Don't discount the mono Body Tube option either, because mixing a bit of its midrange 'bark' with the Close Tube pair's signal can help the instrument hold its place in a busy mix.
Words: Mike Senior