All Posts by Tassy Sandor

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What to Edit Prior To The Mixing stage?

What to Edit Prior to the Mixing Stage?

This question has come to MixCoach and I am happy to help with my view on the topic.

Aligning, gain staging, and even making certain panning decisions before starting a mix is very important because if properly done, it can save a lot of time and headache later in the mixing stage.

At What Point in a Workflow can it be called “Starting to Mix.”

Is there an exact place in any workflow where the job called “mixing” really begins?

I think not, but surely there are some things to consider or that can be done in the early stages of your workflow.

I would rather call these steps “preparation” for mixing, and are always applied to songs of all genres. Only after all these things are done and set, can you feel comfortable to start your mixing job on the song in question.

  1. Importing tracks to the session: mono or stereo?
  2. Arranging the tracks to fit your workflow
  3. Creating groups
  4. Setting the tracks wave forms: visually
  5. Checking the phase of multi-microphone sources (drums, Acoustic Guitar, piano etc. if recorded L, R) and aligning.
  6. Checking the panning of Overhead and Room tracks of the drums. (Drummer or audience perspective)
  7. High pass filtering (HPF) all tracks (Kick, Bass at least 40Hz, all others at 80Hz to be fine-tweaked later)
  8. Routing to buses
  9. Checking the master channel input signal level.

Let’s see the why and how One by One:

  1. Importing tracks to the session

Aligning multimic-recorded tracks, like drums, LR recorded instruments (acgtr, piano…) we must remember that alignment can be done only if the tracks are mono, so aligning begins with choosing the proper importing options to the session.

The stereo-track recorded instruments must be imported as 2 tracks, two channels, L and R.

The two channels in one stereo track cannot be aligned to each other in this one stereo track. (OH, Room, Ac gtr, ….) They must be imported as two mono tracks.

 Arranging the tracks to fit your workflow

Having a certain and general order of the tracks in all the sessions you are working on makes it a lot easier and faster to find the instruments and tracks and makes mixing a joy.

My order is like most of ours in Mixcoach:

Reference track (stereo)

Room, OH, Kick, Snare, Hat, Toms, (other percussion), Bass, AC gtr, E gtr, (Lead gtr, other gtr-like instruments: mando, dobro…), Piano, Organ, (Brass, Winds, Strings if any), BGV, Lead Vox

  1. Creating groups

After having all the guys playing in the session arranged in their general order it is time to create certain groups. My groups are usually: Room-OH, Drums, Toms, Gtrs, Keys, (Strings, Brass), BGV.

You can either route them to buses now or later depending on what you have in mind to do with them. In Mixbus group routing is simple so I do it later if at all.

  1. Setting the tracks wave forms by eyes

waves size 2

In my workflow it is only a visual setting to see the wave form in all the tracks clearly. It makes easier to find sections along the track later, helps to do more accurate time alignment using stretched wave lines, (zoom in).

It gives easy possibility to boost/cut ranges later when some tracks need clip gain corrections while mixing (vocal words, guitar licks, riffs  to emphasize at certain parts of the song…)

For doing this I love the clip gain function as the easiest and the best.

This gain editing belongs to the activity we call gain staging but gain can be adjusted in so many ways that “gain” may be worth studying a bit deeper even at this stage of preparation to clearly see your choices later.

Quite independently from what DAW you use I recommend to watch this Harrison video on Gain Staging in Mixbus because it shows the lot options we may have:

Clip gain is an easy, simple tool for setting with only eyes the correct input level to give sweet spot  for the channels, for their plugins and sends. Naturally, later in mixing stage faders will take care of track volumes sent to the master to get the proper balance.

  1. Checking phase of multi-miced tracks (drums, acgtr, piano etc if recorded L, R) and aligning them

– Doing by ear: we can solo the two tracks and flip the phase on one of  them, then we can choose which sounds better, fuller, punchier and we partially treated the phase issue.

– Partially because in 90% we can do better by eyes: if manually align them because the phase difference is rarely just the opposite (when they almost null themselves).

CHECK PHASE

In this picture the kick in and kick sample tracks are well aligned in phase, the same has to be done with snare if double miced, OH, Room LR etc.

These tracks e.g. OH first have to be aligned to themselves LR, then can be used (nudged) together for further alignment to the other instrument tracks.

But the question comes now where to align (drag horizontally in timeline) these perfectly matching tracks to?

Ideas can be different but my view on this is the following: in the timeline, say to clicks, the nearest recorded signal can be got by using the close-miced tracks because the delay while the sound travels to the mic from the sound source is the less in this case.

So my milestone to align others to is either the snare top or the kick near beater track signal.

Which to prefer in a certain song is decided by the other instruments. If most of the guys played closer to the kick hit I chose the kick if to the snare I choose the snare and align all the other drum parts, OH and Room, to this. (taking care of their phase as well)

Aligning other instruments I do not think belong to the preparation. Waste of time at this stage.

Too precise timing may lead to unnatural “machine-like” song. I remember when some 15 years ago I wrote the backing tracks to my songs in MIDI, I never used quantize but intentionally made the timing slightly “wrong” to get a more natural paying feeling.

Some other editing needed later on tracks like getting the BGVs words sound together within the BGV tracks and with the lead is part of the mixing stage.

  1. Checking the OH and Room tracks of the drums whether further panning them from the drummer’s or audience’s point of view.

OH and Room now are well aligned in time to the kit but are they matching the space as well? To be sure we take a listen to the OH and the Room tracks in stereo. If you hear a clear LR separation in space regarding hats, toms and cymbals you can pan the drum kit accordingly. If OH  or room do not show this separation you may pan the kit as you like.

Are you interested in a little trick I have never heard mentioning by anyone? It does not belong to editing at preparation stage, but belongs to a simple change in panning the drum kit and ensures a chance to use it any time later.

The trick is that simple:

– the drums group you already have panned as OH suggested

– now route the drum kit (all tracks that you panned, OH Room included) to a stereo bus (don’t forget to disengage the master sends of all these parts of the kit:)

– insert a plugin in the stereo drum bus that can swap panning LR like this A1 Stereo Control

Swap pan

or

panipulator copy

While mixing you always have a one-click choice to find whether  a right- or left-handed guy’s kit might have fitted better in the song:)

To the attention of Mixbus users, as important part of the preparation, I may mention the “Direct Output” option that is great to use for reference tracks. With this option chosen the reference track can be played back soloed (one click:) and the signal is not effected by the inserts or settings of the master channel. (In Mixbus the reference track must be imported as one stereo track if direct output is to be used later. Just telling to save headaches:)

Setting up the reference track and using properly can be tricky so exceeds this topic. I am planning to show it in a separate post soon. Its title will be about “Reference Tracks”.

  1. High pass filtering (HPF) all tracks (Kick, Bass at least 40Hz, all others at 80Hz to be fine-tweaked later)

HPF

The white knob is for HPF in Mixbus and all tracks are roughly filtered to get rid of the unnecessary and sound polluting low end frequencies. At preparation stage drums and bass up to 40-60Hz, all other instruments 80-100 Hz. I do not care to be exact at that stage just get rid of the most.

This pre-filtering the lows makes possible to get proper settings for the plugin inputs on all tracks (compressors, reverb etc…) Since I am mastering on the go HPF also ensures the proper input for my mastering plugins.

Later when I deal with the other instruments in order one by one HPF is naturally fine-tweaked:)

  1. Setting “Instant Awesome” in all the tracks

Kevin’s one of the greatest inventions is the “Instant Awesome”. If you are not familiar with that you can find it here (example in vocals but the idea of HPF and compression good for all tracks):

In Mixbus I have found a way reproducing the Instant Awesome sound without the SSL plugin. Mixbus users can watch my video here:

 

  1. Routing to buses

buses

Routing can be applied either for groups (I rarely use) and for FX reasons.

Regular buses with the plugin settings are saved in my template and this way they are part of  the preparation work.

In my template these are 3 buses for Room, Plate and Hall Reverbs, a bus for Smack, and one for Delay.

Sends are engaged later when starting to mix my firs instrument: the drums.

  1. Checking the master channel input signal level.

Finally before getting started to mix the master channel input signal level must be checked and adjusted to have a 3-6 dB headroom when beginning the rough/static mix by the faders.


Thanks for your question

Happy mixing

Best wishes

Tassy Sandor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What Volume Should I Have On The Master/ Stereo Out, When The Mix Is Ready?”

What volume should I have on the Master/ Stereo Out, when the mix is ready?”


Keep RMS around -10-12dB, ceiling -1dB and you are done:)

To make use of this short statement in practice we need to clarify some things like the difference between gain, volume, level and loudness and also some other questions need answering.

  1. Ready for mastering? (proper balance, enough headroom, proper dynamic range)
  2. Ready for burning onto CD ? (good balance, no clipping, mastered, dynamic range i.e. loudness fitting the genre…)
  3. Ready for converting ? (to other formats like MP3..)
  1. Ready for broadcasting on TV, Radio….?
  2. Ready to publish on media like Soundcloud, Spotify, iTunes….?

Answering 1, 2, 3, I am familiar with:)

Answering  the 4th I have lack of knowledge regarding nowadays standards

Answering the 5th I am at a loss since I have found a bluegrass song (we have had the honor to mix in

fig. 1

(Fig. 1)

Mixcoach, too) that had 0, I mean ZERO,  dynamic range on iTunes and was a horror to hear:(

Downloaded wave looked like this… (see Fig. 1)


 

Since I am mixing in order to get enjoyable music at the end, I would prefer not to dig in the nowadays “even loudness” issue  of iTunes, Spotify and the like:(

GAIN:

It is an input signal level. The strength of which a signal hits the channel, a bus, a plugin, the master channel inputs. It can be set by the input gain  (if any) on the channel strip, by the input knob of a plugin (if it has) or by an inserted gain plugin.

Important to know that the fader on a channel has nothing to do with the input gain on this channel!

VOLUME: 

It is the level or strength of a song/signal/track at which we are listening to it. Can be low volume at home dancing with your sweetheart beside the fireplace:) or extremely high volume at a death-metal concert after which you keep restarting your car engine because you cannot hear it is already running):

Faders take care of the output signal strength of the channel. The master fader also changes the volume at which you listen to. In mixing and mastering practice the master fader should be left alone at its default 0 position.

Want to change the volume of the output? Use the volume knob controlling your monitor and not the master fader.

LEVEL:

Generally refers to the strength of a signal, or some quality. To say “listen to a mix at low level” is not correct, “listen to at low/high volume level” is more correct.

LOUDNESS (also LOUD):

Since the loudness war, I dare not say “loud” as we used to tell when the volume of the music was high because loudness nowadays refers rather to the dynamic range or the RMS level (average amplitude value) of the mix.

It can be set or tweaked by compressors and limiters on the master.

To cover all the important things that take part in setting a proper output signal on the master the metering devices, plugins must not be forgotten.

They Can Serve Practically Two Goals:


Fig. 2

(Fig. 2)

Analogue or analogue emulation VU meter (See Fig.2)

  • Shows the output of your signal which is going to your monitoring system (coming out of your soundcard and going into an amplifier or active monitors)

For me, if it is hitting 0VU or sometimes jumping to +1-3 dB (like in the traditional tape recorders), I know my song or anything I listen to from any audio device connected to my monitoring system (CD, tape synth, internet, LP), sounds great.

Plugin inserted to show the signal strength in the master final out

Here the VUMT needles show the volume value OK, the leds are yellow so peaks are under 0dB. 

(Fig. 3)

(Fig. 3)

When you see this on the master channel output you may think the signal is not clipping and you are right. (See Fig. 3)

Needles can jump even into the red scale but LED’s remain yellow, so the digital peaks not clipping.

  • My VU reference level is set at -10 dB (down right corner).
  • VU meters show some average level of the volume we hear. Volume Unit (VU).
  • VU is not RMS, rather some similar perceived average of the signal our ears detect.

Good to remember that VUMT needles show VU levels not peaks, thus in your DAW it may happen that LED’s show the peaks clipping (LED’s red, needle also high in red) even if the signal stays below 0 ensured by a limiter. 

(Fig. 4)

(Fig. 4)

It is great because calls your attention to the fact that the VU level is near the peaks so the song is

very loud, the dynamic range (DR) is little

(See fig. 4)


Digging deeper into practicing with limiter parameters Threshold and Ceiling you will find that this mix can be “cured” by dragging the ceiling lower to-3-5 dB and then, and only then, the limiter will take care of the peaks and get them back under zero, so VUMT will show you a wonderful picture like in fig. 3: needle under O, leds yellow, we are happy….. BUT if you listen to or look 

(Fig. 5)

(Fig. 5)

at the TT DR meter it will show an over compressed garbage of DR4-5 What a horror 🙁

But how to understand this below? (See Fig. 5)


Needles at -4-5dB show values below zero, much less than above, so the VU level is low, but the red leds show the digital peaks are clipping!

The peaks far exceed the VU level, DR is higher but since the peaks are clipping the mix is useless.

In this case there is no brickwall limiter taking care of the peaks on the master, or it is bypassed.

If you engage the limiter here in normal settings (threshold -1 ceiling -0.3) you will get a wonderfully sounding song of fine DR. (around 10dB dynamic range)

The conclusion is that VUMT tells a lot more from practical point of view than we might think at the first sight. VUMT is more than “just another” VU meter:)

You may see now that only some values given on blogs and posts on the net are useless (even if correct) without a deeper understanding what information they can really cover and by what means they were obtained.

If you begin feeling “Brrr I think I had better choose cliff hanging rather than mixing”): sparing time for experimenting with the plugins is the key:)

This VU thing recalled an old joke about the professor explaining some science to the students at the university.

He is explaining and puts the question “Do you understand it?”. The students answer “No”.

The professor tells it again and asks “Do you understand it?”. The students answer “No we don’t”.

The professor explains it in another way and another way and again and again and the students still keep answering “We don’t understand at all”

The professor is getting out of rage and cries out “How is it that you cannot understand? Even I have understood it by now!”

In order not to fall into the trap of a “wonderful” VU like fig.3, nevertheless, mix sounding horrorful dilemma, I use this TT DR meter to check whether the loudness (dynamic range) of the mix is OK. 

(Fig. 7)

(Fig. 7)

(Fig. 6)

(Fig. 6)


TT Dynamic Range Meter Free (See Fig. 6)

(or Brainworx -bx_meter, not free, Just Click Here To Check It Out!)

If it stays yellow, sometimes orange but never or just rarely red you are having a great loudness level and the song will be a pleasure to listen to.


Finally, I always check the Dynamic Range of my finished and mastered mixes by this “standalone” DR meter . (fig.7)

Now measuring 11 dB I am happy with this jazz song I mixed.

After having clarified the main terms and got more familiar with the gears that help me let’s jump to the first question:


1. What gain and loudness level settings I think fit for mastering:

Since I am mastering on the go I have rarely checked the output of my master channel without my mastering plugins or using them bypassed.

Now I did and checked different songs to get a trustable average level to give the guys who master separately from the mixing stage or have their mixes mastered by a mastering engineer.

There are a lot posts on the net suggesting different numbers, headroom etc. Here I can give the values I always use and years of feedbacks have proved they cannot be wrong:)

My mix, as sum of all the tracks, arrives at the master input at 1.5-2 dB, rarely -3 but never more headroom. This mostly around -1.5-2dB seems a lot smaller than generally suggested, and seemingly “little” is left for my mastering plugins to take care of.

This rather small value -1.5 is due to the fact that I am mastering on the go, listening to my master output through my mastering chain, this way a part of “mastering” has been performed in all the channel strips while mixing. Listening through the final mastering plugins make me do different tweaks while mixing than without.

Remember this bold type sentence above when you are reading later in the next CD section that you might get different balances in the same mix depending on the mastering method. This “… makes me do different tweaks….”  is also a proof of it, just explaining it from backwards.

Thinking it over for the guys who master after mixing or send their mix to be mastered I suggest an average of -3 dB headroom to leave. Keeping it in mind that the bigger headroom you leave the more different masters you may get compared to your original mix balance.

Leaving less than -3 dB headroom can be good if you have taken professional care of your dynamic range while mixing. The mastering will give less changes in the balance. In both cases I supposed that no ovecompression was applied because if so, no mastering guy on earth even no aliens can take it out of your mix.

2. What gain and loudness level settings I think fit for CD:

The short answer is the same as I started with: Keep the RMS between -10-12 dB, Ceiling -1dB. Check it at the loudest section of the mix.   

The long answer:

In fig. 8 there is an example of a mastered mix DR12, RMS 12. Sounds pleasant.

The ceiling was set at -1 dB shown as “peak” at the top of the meter.

RMS  is the green bar but can be seen in numbers at the bottom of the plugin, also shows -12dB.

In fig. 9 a harder mastered song is shown. In spite of the fact that it was a commercial release mastered by a “professional” studio, the meter shows (at top) peak “over” means the mastering guy forgot to set the ceiling. No comment. 

The DR is 8dB, also the RMS is near around as you can read in the picture. (L= 7.9dB R= -8.1dB)


(Fig. 8)

(Fig. 8)

(Fig. 9)

(Fig. 9)

In pop, rock, country styles generally I aim at dynamic range DR 9. If dance DR8, if jazz or bluegrass and the like my goal is -10-12dB. (as rule of thumb I consider DR in TT meter similar to RMS)

Guys who skipped reading the introduction section may ask: “Why begin always with the dynamic range?

I can take care of it at the end by my mastering limiter.”

Only partly true!

A mastering limiter is doing its job from the material it receives on its input. Either if sending to a mastering engineer or mastering it on the go.

Therefore, DR level is the goal of the mixing to set and not that of the mastering process. Hmmm? Why?

– Yes it is, because even if the audio is having a headroom say -3-6 dB but was compressed to death by mixing, the mastering can never repair the dynamic range. The mix remains too loud for ever.

– Yes it is, because if the dynamic range is too high e.g. 15-16 dB as the master input the mastering limiter can make it louder, shrink it and result in even DR8, but the balance of the mix will also change. Different limiters and different settings and the different algorithms inside the plugin will result in different balances. One increases the lows the other the highs or treats the peaks and RMS differently.

If you do mastering yourself but separately, after mixing, you might feel an urge after applying a hard working limiter on the master to go back to the faders in order to hear the original balance you had been after. So why jump to and fro between the limiter and the faders. Better to take care of the DR (or RMS) in the mix. 1-2 db more than your goal is OK but even more or less I strongly suggest to avoid.

I have done experiments and the same song with a certain balance mixed loud and mixed of high dynamics to be mastered never sounded the same as the one I mixed to the desired DR that had the balance I wanted to hear.

To the mastered mix output on the master, for exporting, I apply the following settings:

My limiter ceiling -0.3 dB. DR 9-10 dB. Never clips, sounds great on CD players. 

Mostly opinions suggest  ceiling -1dB, DR rarely mentioned.

Why I use less than -1 dB ceiling is my personal decision. I would loose almost 1dB (0.7) dynamic range that I do not want to. I give my explanation in the following but do not take it as my recommendation, better keep the -1dB.

The other reason is connected to the next question the converting options.

3. What output on the master is ready for converting (to other formats like MP3, OGG, WMA, FLAC..)

General advice is to have this -1 dB ceiling not to get distortion in course of converting, compressing, encoding the wave file to MP3, OGG, FLAC etc….

Based on my experience it is not a question of the encoding itself, not the bad feature of MP3 format as often thought but the poor quality is due to the encoding algorithm and converting device. There are hundreds of converter softwares that cannot do their job well and more ceiling is needed to get something usable sound after converting.

For converting I use my old DAW Mixcraft (version 5, 6, 7 all alike in that regard) and its converting engine is fast and great. (Encoder L.A.M.E) No harm done to the original wave curve even if the wave file ceiling I set -0.2-0.3 dB.

This -0.2-0.3 ceiling takes care of the intersample clips as well and also enough for my MP3 conversion.

I checked the wave lines got by extreme low different settings and no chopping of the peaks or the top of the sine waves like to top of a soft boiled egg:)

In this way I can save a plus 0.7 dB DR compared to the -1dB ceiling option, and it is fine because I love to listen to dynamic songs:) And I give my client the MP3 as well.

I must tell that I do not recommend you to give a client a low ceiling wave because he or she might convert it somehow the result can be no good. This -1dB ceiling is a sure safety reason most pro studios suggest  so use -1dB ceiling and you can sleep calm and relaxed:)

DR is a double-edged sword. DR -9-11 sounds fine and pleasant to listen, but the market demand is also something to consider and may want it louder. I do not agree, but different people, situations, demands, clients need to make different decisions. You must balance the for and against things and make yours.


Hope it helps.

Best wishes,

Tassy   

Mastering Separately or Mastering As You Mix

Mastering Separately or Mastering As You Mix?

Today I am answering a question from one of our subscribers who asked, “What are the advantages/disadvantages of mixing into a limiter or mastering device, versus putting [the processing] on in the end?”

After considering all the for and against thoughts below, I decided to cover “Mastering As You Mix”. I use it and it seems to be working fine.

If you do not share most of these thoughts, mastering separately after mixing may be the choice for you. Even in that case, inserting a limiter on the master is a must, to alert you and help to avoid clipping. Checking the gain reduction on your limiter periodically is a must in order to avoid having over compressed garbage in the end:)

About the need for mastering:

I once asked a Pro mastering engineer this question, and this is the answer I received:

“What mixes do you like to master?”

“Those that do not need mastering”.

For me it means that such mixes do exist! Ever since then I always do my best to produce mixes like that:)

So I thought..

– if a mix sounds good why master it?

– if a mix is not good, then why “fix it in the mastering stage”?

– mastering surely has its place for albums as the last step to get even loudness and overall volume on the CD.

– mastering can be the solution if a record or a mix cannot be reproduced and the one existing track should be tweaked a bit better.

– mastering is not for repairing bad mixes.

About the mastering process:

– if there are some things generally done with finished mixes by a master channel, why not do it from the start? It is in the name: master channel/bus.

– the mastering guy has no idea about my vision on my song or mix, sure he will do some quite different thing than I think.

– nothing on earth can change small details in a song by “mastering” if it has not already been done in the mix which the mastering engineer received. A lot times they send the track back for further mixing….

– if a mix needs only some little overall tweaks in mastering: the mix is OK for a separate mastering.

– but these little overall tweaks can be also inserted in the master channel while mixing.

– if a lot has to be done in separate mastering: the mix is not ready.

I decided to hear the mix with the ears of the mastering guy while mixing. Therefore, I put the general mastering plugins on the master channel and mix through them.

But what are the “general” plugs and settings? Sure every song is different! How can I say :”This is the usual way!”

I studied a lot posts on the web what mastering engineers were doing to different songs and I made general conclusions, but the final solution came from Kevin Ward’s posts on using Izotope Ozone:

 “How I Use iZotope Ozone part 1” , “Mastering with Ozone part 2

If you do not have Ozone you can set up a similar mastering chain like that:

  1. Gain knob ( Ggain free VST only) if shows clipping I drag all faders down and not this plugin gain knob.
  1. Limiter (Loudmax free, Mac AU, too) compared to other limiters it can do it’s job at a triple threshold without starting distorting as some more popular plugins do. (The new version has a “link” button as well between threshold and ceiling)

The limiter setting is: threshold 0dB and ceiling 0.3dB. When the gain reduction is more than 1-2 dB on the peaks I go back to the faders. I do not want this plugin at this position to do any limiting or compress the song while mixing, it is here only for safety, checking, and warning reasons.

  1. EQ plugin set like in Kevin’s Ozone tutorials. I use Voxengo GlissEq, (also for Mac). It shows the real time spectrum as well, and uses little DSP, 0.5%.
  1. Multi-band Compressor, any you have, set like in Ozone. Sometimes I check the low frequency (LF) range and HF range threshold to get occasional little gain reduction (GR). (no more than 1-2dB)
  1. Post EQ set like in Ozone.

 Reverb some 3-5 % to glue all together, it’s presence is only perceived. Bypassing makes a feeling: “something seems to disappear”:)

  1. Final Limiter that has an inter sample control in it, no more than 1 dB of gain reduction on the loudest peaks. I found that setting -0.2- 0.3 dB ceiling and threshold in any brick wall limiter, the inter sample issue can be avoided without inter sample preventing plugin or option.
  1. A Mono Button, because I mix 80% listening in mono.

 Post-fader:  

Only Meters:, TT Dynamic Range Meter, Klangheim VUMT (setting: VU-10)

Since the settings of all the plugins in the chain do very little changes they do not need any or just slight tweaks during mixing (not afterwards!). It means mainly only checking not to exceed the gain reductions and not overdoing the reverb.

The most important thing to remember in order to get this to work, is not to touch the other channel knobs and faders on the master bus. In Harrison Mixbus there are a lot (gain, EQ, saturation, compressor, makeup, attack/release ratio, pan, fader…) if these were tweaked I would be lost in the first moment as to what caused the changes in the mix, it would confuse all the track tweaks and my mastering workflow would loose its “usual” or “good for all” starting point character.

This may seem far away from considering “advantages and disadvantages” but I think we cannot speak about mastering without a clear knowledge on Volume, Loudness (Dynamic Range), they should not be confused.

– VU meters show the signal strength (amplitude) that can be either peaks or RMS values. It shows the volume of the audio material and indicates if it is clipping/distorting.

– TT DR Meter refers to the Loudness of the song and the difference in dB between the weakest and loudest part of the song.

So you may have songs where the VU needle does not jump over 0 into red, nevertheless, you hear the song is three times as “loud”, because it was compressed/limited to death and all the gentle parts were “pushed up” near the value of the highest volume zone. Decreasing the “volume” of such songs will not cure the over compressed DR. It remains “loud” (over compressed) even if you turn down the volume knob so much that you hardly hear the music and remains “loud” even if you leave 10dB headroom for the mastering guy!

The dynamic range of a finished mix belongs to it and cannot be changed by turning knobs.

Compressors and limiters on the master bus must be tweaked with care not to fall in the pit of overdoing, that might result in unpleasant, over compressed songs of poor dynamic range.

Mastering cannot correct over compressed audio material.

Loudness (DR) must be taken care of while mixing either if the mastering is given over to a mastering engineer,  you master it yourself separately, or “Master As You Mix”. 

Finally let’s see in a video how my “Mastering As You Mix” works:

I do not want to convert anyone into a “master as you mix”, I only want to help in getting you closer to a workflow that will not cause “overdoing” or “needing” a lot of post mastering.

No universal truths above, it only depends on your knowledge and consideration of the little parts:

2+1=3 if we consider 1 and 2 as apples

but

2+1=1 if we speak about molecules (H2O:)

Best wishes

Tassy

To learn more about the author, check out this post Welcome Tassy Sandor To The MixCoach Community of Contributors.


 

If you have any questions or topics that you would like to learn more about or see more of on MixCoach, be sure to write us at support@mixcoach.com


 

If you missed Tassy’s last post on Setting The Threshold On Compressors, Just Click Here!

Setting The Threshold on Compressors

Setting the Threshold on Compressors

The following question came to Mixcoach:

“I have a concern that’s been bugging me for months. It’s about setting the Threshold on compressors. I understand the concept of what a compressor does, but I notice that a lot of people (specifically in tutorials) set the Threshold down way lower than just below the peaks that they’re trying to compress, so in effect, the compressor is always compressing & not just when those unwanted peaks pop up. What’s up with that? I’m also having trouble hearing the effects of the compressor, maybe it’s my ears, maybe it’s the Threshold thing…?”

I am honored to have the possibility to share my way of thinking about “setting the threshold” and “always compressing,” but “…hearing the effect…” is rather an attack-release thing, so I’ll answer it in another post.

Since all the parameters of compressors (number can exceed 30!) are in correlation and different types can give similar results with quite different settings and different results with the same settings, I thought to give a bit wider explanation.

This deeper understanding is needed because if I say, for example, “Set the threshold to -30 dB to treat vocals” I have told nothing, but rather something foolish! Why? Because a threshold is a relative value that depends on the incoming signal level, that is the input gain of the compressor.

Without setting and knowing the proper input gain of the track, it is senseless to talk about any threshold value.

This old Nomad Factory compressor knew that and I am using it in the following video to show you the basics of understanding thresholds and how thresholds depend on the input gain to get the compressor to work at all.

2 knobs Nomad

Many years back, I thought I invented the Spanish Wax when I realized the interdependence and function of gain-fader-threshold-sweet spot and cried out “Eureka! I understand compressors!” I had made a little summary of that “invention” at that time and you can Check It Out Here

Vid 1. deals with Setting Threshold in compressors: 

 

Types of Parameters Found On Compressors:

For practicing what the general parameters of a compressor can do, you must find one that has these parameters. I call them Easy to Know What It Does compressors.

They generally have 5 knobs: Threshold and Ratio, Attack and Release, and the Makeup gain.

If there is a switch between RMS and Peak  or the type is known, it is an extra joy. In this compressor, the input signal level has to be set properly by the channel input gain.

compressor 4 knobs

– There are also “Hard To Know What It Does” compressors with strange names on their 2 or 30 knobs, and takes some experimenting to learn what they really refer to and exactly do. This extra learning process does not take anything away from their being great sounding, and easy to use, it just takes a little extra time to learn how to operate these compressors.

copressor 2 knobs 2     compressor lot knobs 2

You can see I have avoided mentioning VCA, FET, Optical, OTA, Tube, Feed-forward, Feed-back, Vocal, Bus, Slow, Fast… and so on types of compressors because if you start learning all these at this stage of knowledge, you are lost for ever!

Regardless, all of these hundreds of types have only three things in common:

  1. Gain Reduction (GR, tweaked by Threshold and Ratio) for your       eyes
  1. Wave shaping, sound forming (tweaked by Attack and Release) for your ears
  2. Adding Harmonic Distortion (the character of the compressor) for your   ears

 

The second question was “Compressor is always compressing

Without knowing or having the tracks in question, or what the intention or use of the compressor, I cannot tell if it was right or wrong.

I can imagine, for example, to get a bass, claps or snare to sound totally consistent, the compressor or limiter can be set a hair lower than the lowest signal level, thus the compressor will be working all the time.

Limiters on individual tracks are sometimes used and can seem like they are doing nothing, and gain reduction only rarely shown. Nevertheless, the limiter is already working, but the inner algorithm has not triggered its led or needle because this visible signal needs maybe 3 dB (like in SSL channel), but it reduces the 0-2.9 dB signals. The sound gets more consistent.

The other case can be when the compressor/limiter is used to perform sound shaping (snare is a good example that I will show in another video post.) In this case, the plugin needs harder settings to get the shaped sound even at its lower signal levels to be consistent.

There can be many other reasons, so please provide us some more details of the material in question.

Your third question  Hearing the effects of the compressorexceeds the Threshold topic, so I will deal with it in another post soon.

Good-bye for now,

Tassy