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How And Why To Use Multichannel Instruments In Your DAW

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Most virtual instruments you can buy today have multiple outputs that you can use in conjunction with the sequencer and mixer inside your host DAW. Either layering sounds or to use one instance of the instrument for multiple sounds of your song, there are many benefits to using the multichannel capabilities of your plug-ins effectively. I want to show you how you can quickly set up your host DAW and plug-ins to be able to use one instance of the plug-in for multiple parts of your productions, as well as some ideas on how to effectively utilize this setup.


1. Set Up Your DAW and Instruments

A Word About MIDI Controllers

The steps in this article are utilizing different MIDI channels to be able to independently control the various parts within a multichannel plug-in. If you are using a hardware MIDI controller within your production workflow, you need to either make sure that your single MIDI controller is set up to send MIDI data on all 16 channels; or if using multiple hardware MIDI controllers, make sure you are taking into account the specific MIDI channels that you have set up the devices to send on.

You can read this article to learn how to set up a MIDI controller in Studio One 2.5, or view the Audiotuts+ session on Manipulating MIDI.

Why Use Multichannel Instruments

Admittedly, I never really used this capability until recently. Before I would just create multiple instances of the same plug-in, one instance for each sound I wanted to use on each sequencer track in my project. In addition to using up way more computer resources than needed, this is really limiting the usefulness of the plug-ins that you have paid a pretty penny for.

Each instance of these plug-ins are taking a significant toll on your system resources, if you are only using them as a single sound source. Most of the quote big plug-ins, such as Kontakt, Omnisphere, MachFive, and so on, are designed from the ground up to take full advantage of MIDI data coming in on multiple MIDI channels as well as sending out multiple audio signals back into the host DAW.

Set Your DAW and Instrument Up For Multichannel Use

Most multichannel plug-ins will have some kind of internal structure that allows you to create individual sound sources that can really be thought of independently of the rest. A common naming convention is the term Part. Each Part in the synth is a sound source in and of itself.

The basic workflow, then, is the same for most any multichannel instrument in any DAW:

  1. Initiate one instance of the plug-in.
  2. Create multiple sequencer tracks that are sending MIDI data to the single plug-in on different MIDI channels.
  3. Assign the various parts within the plug-in to recieve MIDI data on its own specific MIDI channel.
  4. If desired, also set each part to send its audio signal out of the plug-in on its own dedicated audio output.
  5. Finally, inside your host DAW, set the audio outputs of each part in the plug-in to be sent to their own channel strips in the mixer, giving you independent mixing and effects controls over them.

To see how this works in practice, let's take a step by step look at how to configure MOTU's MachFive 3 inside of PreSonus Studio One 2.5 for multichannel use.


2. Configuring MachFive 3 Inside PreSonus Studio One 2.5

Step 1

Initiate one instance of the plug-in.

To create a sequencer track with MachFive initiated in Studio One 2.5, simply drag MachFive from the Instruments pane on the right and drop it into the main sequencer area.

Caption
Initiate a single instance of the multi-channel plug-in of your choice inside your host DAW.

Step 2

Create multiple sequencer tracks that are sending MIDI data to the single plug-in on different MIDI channels.

Pressing the keyboard letter "T" will allow you to create a new sequencer track. You want this sequencer track to send its MIDI data to the existing instance of MachFive, and to also send the MIDI data on MIDI Channel 2 (MIDI Channel 1 having been automatically assigned when you created the instrument).

multichannel-instruments-03
Create a new sequencer track in your DAW, and set it up to send its MIDI data to the existing instance of your plug-in.

Step 3

Assign the various Parts within the plug-in to recieve MIDI data on its own specific MIDI channel.

In the main page of MachFive in the Parts pane to the left, you can assign each part to receive on one of the 16 available channels that are available in the MIDI protocol. Selecting Omni will make that part receive on all 16 MIDI channels, which can be used in creative ways.

If you play the multiple parts right now by selecting the appropriate sequencer track in your host DAW, and either play your MIDI controller or use the on screen piano editor, you will notice that the audio signal for both parts are being sent to the same mixer channel strip. That's because while they are receiving MIDI data on different MIDI channels, they are both set to the main outputs inside of the plug-in, so they are being summed down when the audio is sent out of the plug-in and back into your host DAW.

If you want to have them summed down like this that is fine, say for a kind of bus channel when going from the plug-in back into the DAW. But if you want to have independent control of the two sounds, just like if you were using two separate plug-ins, complete the final two steps below.

multichannel-instruments-04
Assign the various parts inside your plug-in to receive MIDI data on the same channel that the new sequencer track is sending MIDI data on.

Step 4

If desired, also set each part to send its audio signal out of the plug-in on its own dedicated audio output.

Just as you assigned the MIDI channel the individual part receives its MIDI data on, you can also assign the audio output for the part, so the audio signal for that part is being sent out of the plug-in on its own channel, independent of all the other parts' audio signals.

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Select a new audio output from the list of available audio outputs in the plug-in.

Step 5

Finally,inside your host DAW, set the audio outputs of each part in the plug-in to be sent to their own channel strips in the mixer, giving you independent mixing and effects controls over them.

To have each part's audio sent to its own mixer channel strip, you have to set the part to send the audio signal out of the plug-in via another audio output. Then you have to create a second mixer channel strip to receive the audio signal from the plug-in, via the second output. This step will vary depending on your host DAW. In Studio One, all you do is:

  1. Click the Instrument pane.
  2. Click on the instrument for which you want to create a new mixer channel strip. You will see a twirl down of all the available outputs. This list will depend on the outputs capabilities of the synth you are using.
  3. Check the box next to the output for which you want to create a mixer channel strip. A new mixer channel strip will appear in the mixer window.

Now we've completed the signal routing, and can control the two parts of this single plug-in independently.

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Create new mixer channel strips to receive the audio from the various outputs of the plug-in.

Conclusion

I hope this gives you some creative ideas on how to better use your multi-channel plug-ins inside of your host DAW. And I hope it helps any of you who may be running into performance issues. Thanks for watching.

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