Mixing using samples only - NOOB ALERT!!

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Member Since: Sep 03, 2008

Dear Everyone.

Got a PC with XP Pro SP2, 1gig DDR2 and an M-Audio Audiophile 2496 Soundcard. I've also got a Soundblaster Audigy I could swap it for if anyone thinks my probs. are soundcard related (if I can find XP drivers for it!)

I'm a wannabe New Age musician - flute'n'strings, piano'n'strings, pads'n'orch. instruments. I have to use a noation package because I'm disbled, can't play a keyboard. Mouse, notes (blobs on sticks, oldskool, me!) and loadsa legit free samples/soundfonts.

I've got the full Sonalksis Mixing Tools set, done loadsa experimentation with it, got precisely nowhere because I don't know what combinations of tools do what. I know it's only supposed to be one question per submission but that would mean about 20 submissions! So I'm putting a little list here and hoping someone will answer one or two of them, or rub my nose in an article somewheres.

1.) Lots of these free samples come with 'built-in' reverb. Which is great but it means if you're using a few of them, the piece is drowned in reverb and you haven't used any! How do you get rid of unwanted reverb?

2.) Loudness. I'm routing the audio output through a hi-fi into its speakers (a) I'm too broke to buy expensive monitor speakers and (b) if it sounds good on my hi-fi, hopefully it will sound good on all hi-fis! Now I'm getting a nice high signal on my soundcard's monitors, but the sound from my speakers, on normal listening settings, is VERY quiet. I've got indie New Age CD's and they come out FAR louder. Would you say they're using GAIN on the overall track before changing individual instrument volume levels, to bring the sound up to 'normality' (if there is such a thing!)

(3) So you've got your 5 imaginary musicians sitting next to eachother - in a rock band it'd be 2 guitars, bass, drums, vocals = 5 sounds. Correct me if I'm wrong in any of this, please, they're not supposed to be statements of fact, just wanna know if I've got the general concepts right! It's PANNING that gets the sounds next to eachother. It's REVERB that gives the sound depth and 'distance' (along with quietness, of course!) Is it COMPRESSION that keeps the instruments apart so they're not 'getting in eachother's way (all shouting LISTEN TO ME....ME....ME....!?)

(4 - and last!) Would you work on each sound separately - compression, etc. - and THEN sit them next to eachother or would you constantly be listening to all the sounds together and adjusting as you go along? I've yet to achieve a a clear, pleasing track using either method :-( so I don't know which to carry on trying with!

Well - hope someone points me in a tutorial's direction or decides to answer one or more of these. I've got at least 100 of the WORST mixed New Age pieces you've ever heard - they'd be GOOD if ONLY I could get the mixing trick sorted!

Yours frustratedly


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MASSIVE Mastering, LLC
Since: Aug 05, 2008

Apr 29, 2009 07:57 am

1) You don't. That's probably why they're free samples.

2) UNMASTERED MIXES are going to be almost drastically quiet against the stuff on the shelf in the stores. This IS normal. Figure about a 12dB difference in apparent playback level. And anything you do for the sake of volume before the mastering phase will likely come back to haunt you during the mastering phase.

Argh - No time - www.massivemastering.com/blog - Look for the articles on recording levels and monitor calibration.

2a) You will only ever be as accurate and consistent as your monitoring allows you to be. Your monitoring will only ever be as accurate and consistent as the room they're in allows them to be. Period. There aren't many real "rules" in audio - But those are two hard rules that have no shortcut.

3) Not really. But not enough time to get into it at this point.

4) If the tracks don't sound 90% "there" with no processing at all, you're probably using the wrong sounds. It's all in the core sounds. Think of the song as a suit - It's only as good as the fabric it's made of. It should be about the right size before the tailor gets his hands on it (mixing).

Session - Gotta go. I'm sure there will be more...

I am not a crook's head
Since: Mar 14, 2003

Apr 29, 2009 11:06 am

1) Try a reverse reverb. Heehee. Just kidding, you're stuck with the reverb if its already been mixed down.

2) copy and paste MM's reply here...

3) You're on the right track with your visualization of the sonic spectrum there. The way I think of it is in 3 dimensions. Frequency range would be the up and down axis, panning in the stereo field would be the left and right axis, and reverb would be the fore to back axis.

So you want to give everything its own place in the frequency spectrum by using EQ, mic placement, things like that.

Then give everything its own spot in the stereo field using panning,

Bring things closer to the listener by leaving them dry, farther away from the listener by adding reverb or using more distant mic positions (which just uses natural room reverb anyways).

4) Let your ears be the guide while mixing. Like MM alluded to above, get everything as close as possible to perfect before hitting the record button. Instruments tuned and intonated, performer warmed up, room acoustically treated to your liking, etc. Everything you have to do post-tracking is going to be twice as difficult or have twice as many complications. The more you EQ, compress, reverb, etc., the more chances you have of ending up with a total sonic mess. Keep it simple!

Here's a good beginner's tutorial on EQ:

That article really got me thinking along the lines of using EQ notches to help instruments shine through in the mix. Everybody gets their own notch when possible, and as a result, everybody can be distinguished by the listener.

bace135 in the house tonight!
Since: Jan 28, 2003

Apr 30, 2009 01:02 am

1) Built in reverb is there to stay. What you can do, is compress it and mess with the attack and especially the release and you can minimize the reverb tail if it is longer. I can't explain it well, but it can help, if there is a longish reverb trail. But the easy answer, is you are stuck with it.

2) MM hit it on the head. But I will add on to 2a... if you get to know your speakers and room VERY well, you can still produce nice mixes (with practice), but you will be accounting for the non ideal situation (ie if your speakers tend to be light in the bass, you may want to be gentle with the bass so that it doesn't sound ideal in your speakers, as nothing sounds ideal in your speakers... does that make sense?). Using a nice room and nice monitors certainly makes it easier.

3) Panning is left/right. Reverb is front back. Eq, not compression is what will help all the instruments not step on each others toes.

4) I have a particular process that I like to do. I don't record anything except vocal in my music, generally. Usually I'm using synths (electronic and sample based), and drum samples (hip hop). I put each sound on its own track. I then mute everything but the kick drum, and get the sound I want for that. Then I unmute the bass, so both the bass and the kick are playing, and I tweak the bass until the bass and kick are playing nicely together. Then I add the snare/clap and get that sounding right. I proceed to add each instrument one by one, keeping in mind that more instruments will be coming down the line, and leaving space for the vocals which I always do last. This is just my process, but it helps me compartmentalize the whole deal. Oh, and as a rule, I pretty much never hard pan anything (all the way to the left or all the way to the right)... again, my preference.

The article Tadpui posted also opened my eyes many years ago! I had no idea what eq was prior to that article.

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