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Loudness in orchestral music?

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Dave Gruska, Mar 29, 2019.

  1. I make solo pieces with a few backing tracks, and orchestral pieces with 40+ tracks, and want to have an album with both. I've noticed that the more tracks I add, the quieter things seem to get in the final mix. It's currently super annoying to listen to one after another back-to-back due to the loudness differences.

    Joe Satriani did something like this with his Flying in a Blue Dream album, with short solo interludes between full songs. This album sounds great, and you never have to reach for the volume knob, so I know it can be done somehow.

    In any case, is there a trick for managing more tracks and maintaining loudness, while still having a bit of dynamic range?
    And does anyone have an idea of why songs with fewer tracks end up being louder.

    I'm currently using Izotope Ozone for "pseudo-mastering", and mostly just adjusting the maximizer section settings a bit when A/B'ing against my reference tracks (mostly "Two Steps From Hell" songs). That limits the peaks to -.01 with my current settings.

    Does the "Template Balancing" masterclass cover this type of thing well enough? If so, I'll just buy that.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Sure, just use a compressor. More compression equals less dynamic range (well, that's one way to use it) so you can bring the whole thing up. It's easy for your peaks to reach 0 when there are more tracks, which is why compression is very often used in production. Don't squash it into oblivion and you'll still have some dynamic range left :D

    I generally use at least a little bit, even in orchestral music. However, if you're going for the "produced" sound that older TSFH and most of modern "epic" pieces are sporting, you're gonna need a bit more smack. Don't be afraid to dial that limiter in! I mean, as for anything, all bets are off. You can then automate the threshold for different sections and have it behave differently, you're not locked into a single compressor setting.

    It also comes down to reverb amounts per instrument and low and high ends (which get rolled off as the instrument is placed deeper into the room) which will decide the perceived depth of your instrument.

    If you only have three instruments in a piece, of course you wouldn't mic them like you would a 100-piece orchestra. So here's a thought: it might be that it's not the volume difference that's pissing you off, but the fact that the depth of the instruments stays the same, but now you're using fewer instruments and want the volume up.

    So look into using different microphone positions for pieces that feature fewer instruments.

    Also, generally, providing audio examples always helps to make sure that everyone is on the same page, a lot of things I wrote are educated guesses based on what I've been through, what people ask the most often etc. So provide some audio examples of your troubles and it'll be much easier for me to help you out further!
  3. Thanks for the helpful reply, Aaron. You're probably right - in my head I think I'm afraid to throw too much production on an orchestral piece, but the sound I like (TSFH) is most likely producing the heck out of it.

    I'm mostly using the super-cheap Soundiron Hyperion Strings Micro, which may be part the problem, but it's close mic'd just like the Beatles "Eleanor Rigby" strings sound, which is my holy grail. I also have the cheaper tier of EastWest's Symphonic Strings, too, which unfortunately doesn't have different mic positions, but the built-in reverb options do sound good to me.

    I'll play around with compression and automation. I think that may help a lot.

    I'd be glad to post some audio samples when I get home, if you can look past my crappy compositions :) I'm just doing this for fun and with minimal knowledge, but I do want to get better.

  4. Alright, looking forward to it.
    Hey, you're here, that's a great step in the right direction :D
  5. Quick test I put together from a few Bach Google Doodles (4 harpsichord tracks) - mix sounds good to me, but may be too hot?:

    A song I'm in the middle of working on, but illustrates the issue - not mixed yet (24 tracks so far):

    Both have similar limiter / maximizer settings in Ozone.

    I will try all of your previous suggestions when I get some time.

  6. #6 Alexander Schiborr, Mar 30, 2019
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2019
    Hey Dave,

    welcome the forum.

    After listening to your example a few pointers (apart from the technical questions you had) came to my mind after listening to your music (I know you didnĀ“t ask for that specific reason and if you are not interested into other points rather than compressing your track, just ignore my following thoughts:

    1. Composition.

    Creating interesting motives is a fundamental part of a good composition. Also developing the motives and creating b or counter motives are important. Therefore I would suggest to study the composition fundamentals. I think your focus first should be to learn to create a cohesive piece of music. Therefore I can advice you to Mikes MC "Composition I" as I think it is a great starter for you. If you want to capture great tracks like from Satriani, well look at the compositional aspects also of such tracks (Melody, Chord progressions, the harmonic frame)

    2. Structure

    Having a clear structure and repurposing motives are very important too. Your presented track has really no structure at all. If that track is intended as a kind of song Opera with mixed orchestra, yet you should pay attention to create a cohesive structure where you introduce ideas and themes, develop them, create b - sections, recapitulate them and so on.

    3. Midi programming treatment

    The orchestral sections in your track need more midi programming treatment in order to inject more life into your orchestral sections. Study also orchestration because I think you should at least know the basics of orchestration. Also spatial placement is a subject what you should focus at some point on (which means to create a cohesive orchestral depth and correct instrument placement on your virtual orchestral stage)

    Overall I think the least you should concentrate at that moment is how to compress your tracks tbh. :)

    Hope that helps a bit.
  7. #7 Dave Gruska, Mar 30, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2019
    Ouch. This is the exact opposite of what I wanted, but I appreciate the feedback nonetheless.

    I mostly use music as stress relief right now. Banging out heavy epic sounding stuff is just insanely fun for me.

    I know I have a ton to learn - I actually bought "Composition 1" two days ago, and already have three pages of notes about stuff I didn't know. For the "Anti Pattern" piece, I came up with the ostinato first, which I think was my first mistake. Then I built the track in my DAW, piece by piece, which I know is a mistake. I did actually try to capture foreshadowing, though, (as I interpreted it) as brought up by Mike in one of his free YouTube sessions.

    As far as MIDI programming, I made hardly any attempt on that piece in it's current state to make it more realistic. I do feel like I have a decent handle on this, but it takes me a lot of time, so I generally do that later.

    In my head, the track makes sense, and I can enjoy listening to it, except for the loudness part. That's why I asked this specific question. Like I said, though, I do appreciate the feedback.

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