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tacoMusic says

Hi everyone,

I’m looking for some tips to improve my mix (I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it). Now, I’ve been writing and producing for a while, but (and I expect this is a common trait among many composers), I feel my mixes are always a bit flat, not loud enough – at least in terms of perceived volume – or could do with some better separation of each part.

I do a lot of music where orchestral samples and percussive elements feature heavily and while I’ve found that EQ-ing things carefully helps (like removing the harsh high-end of sampled strings), certain elements like percussion start to sound ‘mushy’ to my ears yet sound fantastic in more professionally produced tracks I’ve heard. An example of this is that I heard one of Gareth Coker’s percussion ensemble tracks (something like Epic Drums of Death I think it was) which I think sounds punchy, balanced, big and generally great, while I struggle to mix those things while keeping the clarity.

I’m wondering about the best way to really improve and whether it’s a matter of acoustically treating my room first before going into the details of how to improve my mix abilities. I’d think that’s the first step as obviously you need to be able to hear the mix properly (!), but maybe getting someone to tutor me in person would be better than trying to pick up mix tips on the net as that person could point out problems with my control room?

Another idea I had was to post some stems here and see if anyone fancies helping me mix a track that way, it could act as a resource for other people in the same situation. Any advice on which approach to take is welcome.

Thanks

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SoundFix says

I can’t give much advice as I also have similar problems and I still have loooooads to learn about mixing but I will be watching this thread.

Something I haven’t tried but I’ve heard is very effective is multi-band compression, I imagine this done properly could really add punch to the mix and help to separate the instruments. Also, parallel compression may help there too, so you can mix your compressed signal with the original.

Anyway, good luck, I hope some people give some good feedback on this subject :)

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johnny625 says

One quick tip for getting more separation:

Adjust the EQ on each track differently. I mean every track should have different frequency that is being accentuated with the EQ. You don’t want to raise the same mid range frequency on two different tracks that are completely unrelated in their content and type of instrumentation. With other words, every track should have an EQ peak on a different frequency.

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BrownHouseMedia says

I would post stems and see i you could get several different people to post mixes and notes as to what they did. Might be interesting to see how different people approach the same material.

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Stuck_in_the_Basement Envato team says

I would post stems and see i you could get several different people to post mixes and notes as to what they did. Might be interesting to see how different people approach the same material.
I love this idea. Could even turn into a tutorial on audiotuts+ if we do this right. So post them up @tacoMusic!
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tacoMusic says

@brownhousemedia and @Stuck_in_the_Basement – ok, I’ll sort it out this week and will focus on something with an orchestral palette and percussion. Are there any preferences as to how to supply them? I was thinking the following groups:

  • Higher-register strings (violins I + II, violas etc.)
  • Lower-register strings (bass, cello etc.)
  • Woodwinds
  • Percussion
  • Other stuff

I’ll keep any kick separate so some side-chain compression is possible as well.

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Twisterium says

First to check: reverbs (probably too much or have low-frequency tails), frequency conflict of instruments (as is said above – every instrument must have own niche), panorama – make as wide as you can. I think it is better to use small quantity of VERY cool sounds but not huge quantity of low-quality ones.

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gbiasillo says

Great idea guys – I think this will be a great exercise and educational. I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at mixing the tracks as well.

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musicguy says

@brownhousemedia and @Stuck_in_the_Basement – ok, I’ll sort it out this week and will focus on something with an orchestral palette and percussion. Are there any preferences as to how to supply them? I was thinking the following groups:
  • Higher-register strings (violins I + II, violas etc.)
  • Lower-register strings (bass, cello etc.)
  • Woodwinds
  • Percussion
  • Other stuff
I’ll keep any kick separate so some side-chain compression is possible as well.

Sounds great I will give it a try too.

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garethcoker Envato team says

DISCLAIMER : I’m not a pro engineer, but these are tips I’ve picked up over the last 7 years.

Mixing is a LIFETIME ’S study. Many people don’t realize this. The best engineers in the world have generally been around studios for a very long time. I’m going to comment more from the orchestral side of things but many of these ideas apply across all genres. These are all things I’ve picked up having been lucky enough to hang out with some super talented people!

That said, there are some simple rules you can follow that will immediately help your mixes.

- It is far better to cut EQ (reduce frequencies) than raise (add gain) to frequencies. By cutting things out, you’re giving more room for other frequencies to shine. In general, CUT FIRST , raise second.

- Do ‘obvious’ EQ! If you have a flute playing, why do you need anything below 100 Hz? You don’t. You are always looking to cut the things that aren’t adding anything to your music.

- Avoid low-end build up. This is related to the first note. When we play an instrument it resonates at multiple frequencies, and if it’s live / recorded in a room, it will pick up the characteristics of that room too. This can lead to an unwanted buildup of low-end. This is a very big problem with the majority of sample libraries – although recently some companies have started EQing out all the low-end stuff (8Dio Adagio is a good example, do a frequency analysis on the violins, and you will not find any low-end whatsoever). Most people’s sample-based orchestral work – including my own – has way too much low-end info, and as a result the mixes can sound pretty muddy, so this is something I always tend to look at first. If you can get the bass (the foundation) of your track right, it’s quite hard to go wrong after that as long as the bass isn’t over-dominant.

- Notch filtering to find unwanted frequencies.

When you have a lot of instruments playing in a room – or even a bunch of different samples playing together – you get a lot of reactionary frequencies that occur that can lead to a buildup in harmonic overtones that you don’t want in your music. This is natural physics occurring, so there is nothing you can do about it. To find those unwanted frequencies, I load up a Notch Filter in my EQ program and do a frequency sweep to zero in on the frequency that is bothering me. A notch filter is simply an EQ with an exceptionally high ‘Q’. It looks something like this.

By clicking on the headphones (this is Fabfilter Pro-Q) – I can isolate what the notch frequency is filtering out and then drag the headphone along the frequency line to listen for other unwanted frequencies.

This technique is particularly useful for precision instruments, but also good in general to find unwanted frequencies.

- Panning. This is pretty obvious, but it’s especially important in orchestral mixes. Listen to orchestral recordings you’re trying to emulate and work out where the instruments are. It is one of the easiest things you can do to add space to a mix.

- Reverb. Most of the best film score mix engineers heavily use multiple different kinds of reverbs in their work. (I have seen this first hand from Dennis Sands and John Rodd). You’re trying to put instruments in their own space and give them their own control. Generally I’ll use a different reverb for each section. One for brass, one for high strings, one for low strings, one for woodwind, one for percussion.

NOTE that they don’t have to be different ROOMS for each section, I just like to be able to set the ‘Dry/Wet’ ratio for each section independently. You might want really lush strings (big reverb) but you don’t want them to be muddied out with those warm brass chords also playing through a big reverb – so you put the brass chords through the same room but with a higher amount of ‘Dry’ signal, to give things a bit more clarity.

- EQ’ing reverb. As always, try to filter out the low-end with reverb, otherwise it can cause havoc with your mixes.

A good reverb for orchestral work is Quantum Leap Spaces. http://www.soundsonline.com/Spaces

I’ll also throw my support behind 2CAudio B2 – a phenomenal algorithmic reverb. http://www.2caudio.com/products/b2

That’s about all I will offer for now. The most important lesson I’ve always tried to remember is CUT , CUT, CUT , when it comes to EQ. If you feel like you’re losing volume, just…turn up your master fader. By cutting, you’re going to naturally add clarity. By boosting, you’re accentuating an instrument’s natural sound, and therefore making it less natural. By cutting, you’re only taking away info that we don’t need to hear anyway.

Cut lots, raise little, and things improve very quickly :)

@tacoMusic – as for stems. Your suggestions are good, but I would try and separate Violins 1 & 2 if they have independent lines. Also try and separate a stem out for solo instruments if there are any. In general, the more stems the better, but obviously use common sense, as every track is different.

This is the stems I render when I do mixdown my sequence. I used to bounce all of these individually!! But now I finally bothered to set up a good routing system that when I do a mixdown, it renders not only a rough ‘master’ mix but also every stem at the same time.

https://gareth-coker.box.com/s/4v56y8ln8xqxfq5tzywt

Probably overkill for this purpose, but you may find it useful for reference. If you want that big punchy percussion sound that you mention (thanks for the shout out!) – then you DEFINITELY need to separate the percussion into low/mid/high.

Hope this info helped a little. This is a good thread.

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