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Mix Suggestions for my Piece Hollywood Fanfare

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Seth Reese, Oct 7, 2018.

  1. Repost of a thread I created at VI-Control:

    Hi everyone,

    I've been following these forums for a few years now, and have learned some really great stuff from all the generous contributions that the community has provided. But I've reached a point where what I really need is some direct feedback from people who are much more experienced than myself.

    Long story short, I've spent the last three years working in fast food and teaching myself how to compose, orchestrate, sequence, etc. without any kind of guidance. I've very much been in the dark about a lot of things, especially the technical aspects such as mixing. I've reached a point where I feel my musical abilities are good enough to start looking for work, but I'm afraid my work might not be taken seriously for lack of proper audio engineering and overall production quality.

    So I would be extremely grateful for any suggestions, feedback, or really anything to help get my mixes sounding at the very least "good enough" to be used in professional productions, so I can finally start putting my stuff out there and looking for work.

    In this piece I'm mostly using Steinberg Iconica Sections and Players, though I'm using the East West Hollywood series for trumpets, horns, and cymbals, along with the Orange Tree Samples Angelic Harp. I've placed all Iconica instruments front to back with mic positions and have added no additional reverb, and I've used Waves IR-1 with the Todd AO impulse response on all the other instruments to help them sit better with the Iconica samples.

    In addition I've done a bit of eq'ing to brighten up some instruments and remove some mud, along with high-pass filtering the non-bass instruments. I've also panned the strings a bit, and the harp 90% left.

    And that's about it. No compression, limiting, saturation, anything like that.

    So my main questions are:

    1. How close to production ready is my current mix? I know that mastering needs to be done to get the volume to a normal level, but other than that, what specifically is keeping it from sounding "professional"?

    2. What general eq moves need to be made to get things sounding clearer and more distinct from each other?

    3. Do I need to add reverb to the Iconica samples, and if so, how should I apply it so that it fits and sounds better overall but doesn't add unnecessary wetness?

    4. How do I get the overall piece to sound nice and wide like commercial productions?

    And finally, if I've done anything glaringly wrong with my mix or mockup, feel free to let me know. Any and all criticism is welcome with open arms. I'm determined to get my mixes sounding production ready, and I'll take all the help and feedback I can get!


    https://www.dropbox.com/s/9fbnbv8v5wdp96j/Hollywood Fanfare.mp3?dl=0
  2. Hi Seth,

    Really tough to answer this one based on this single color. If you submitted a longer piece that has more variety in orchestration, It'd be easier for me to answer this.

    A lack of reverb is easily spotted on fast modwheel movements with wet samples, because this makes the ambience just vanish, and the result is a line of music that sounds "wrong" and unnatural. If you have such fast movements in your piece and there are clear moments where this ambience fadeout is obvious, you should add some reverb to that track. In such cases, I like to think of that added reverb as the "ambient" mic and dial in the amount accordingly.

    You can manipulate the stereo image using stereo delay and panning of delay taps. It will come down to experimenting and finding what settings work best for both you and the sounds you're tweaking. Google Haas technique for more information and start experimenting. Then it will come down to picking a mix that you like and trying to replicate that same stereo imaging (as well as frequency balance, volume balance, etc.) yourself, instrument by instrument, section by section.

    One thing that is painstakingly out of place are the trombones at 0:13. They sound very thin and "dry" compared to the rest. I'd also extend that downbeat note a bit, it seems too short.

    All in all, once you fix the trombones, this piece should be fine. Do post something longer and with more variety if you'd like more advice.

    It's always hard to give really direct mixing advice, since everyone's ears and perception are different (much like composition, I guess) and everyone's listening environment is different. When people ask me what would I do differently, the answer is usually "Most likely everything". The devil here is in the details and that's where everyone does the job differently.

    One absolutely verified method of improving your mixing skills is to try and match a recording. Not in the sense of making a mockup sound exactly like the recording, but to get the volume, frequency balance and imaging right. Once you settle for the sound of an instrument that you like, e.g. horns, you check the recording and listen how the violins sound compared to the horns, and you match that. Then you listen to how the flutes sound compared to either or to both. Continue until you get everything done. Listening to a lot of recordings and paying attention to volume balance, frequency balance, imaging and ambience (depth) will tune your ears better than any advice. Advice can simply point you in a direction, but you have to do the walking. It's also helps to be knowledgeable about the microphone techniques, how they sound, how the instruments sound when recorded at various distances, so that you can spot these in a recording as well. Sometimes there'll be a bit more close mic on the flute than there is for the horns. Knowing how different mic techniques and the mixes of sound will help you spot that and you won't be trying to get that sound by just EQing Decca mics. If you have libraries that have multiple mic positions, you can already learn a lot; just pay attention to the 4 things I've listed a couple of times already :D
    Paul T McGraw likes this.
  3. Aaron is a superstar on the forum and his advice is great.
    This was also my biggest complaint about the sound of any one instrument. They also sound too far back (which may be influenced by the relatively soft volume). The only other thing I would emphasize, other than the great suggestions from @Aaron Venture, is the final chord :17-:20 - it lacks transparency. It will probably clear up quite a bit when you balance and separate the sections/instruments per the advice above. Some of the string runs are covered up by the padded chords just before the big finish too.

    The modwheel stuff is also true. There are more than a handful of sustains that need that energy/dynamic/timbre change that a live musician would add. It may be the shape of the expression data that is wonky, or it could be the reverb cutting in and out.

    Unfortunately, the bane of VI composers existence is template balancing and matching libraries. Some folks try to keep it all in one family by developer, but even in that there's a lot of variation! Plus, you'll get new toys and instruments to add, and you'll need to work that library into your template. There's better tutorials (on Redbanned and elsewhere) that discuss matching reverb tails, panning position, and early reflections to place different libraries in the same room. @Mike Verta has a great template balancing class that you should buy to see some of those topics in action. There are also some good YouTube mixing videos that address VI positioning (pan & depth), EQ, and balance. I'm by no means a mixing guru, but I'm confident you're asking the right questions.
  4. Oh, one last thought on this specific topic. EQ definitely can compound issues. Too much tinkering and you cut off the character of the sound. No EQing and you get a wash of sound that's hard to decipher. As a positioning rule, cut off some high's for sections that are further back stage. Cutting the low end reverb helps reduce the booming thud of the basses and keeps those frequencies from stacking up with the tutti orchestra. Each instrument group is going to fit in a general spectrum of sound, and some of the excess of even mid and high sounding instruments can be lopped off (you won't need much violin sound below its lowest note G3 for instance). If I've misstated anything, I'm sure someone will correct me below. Do a lot of A B comparisons as you tinker around with the mix. Also, it is sometimes helpful to let a piece rest for a few days because your ears will get used to what it is hearing over, and over, and over again in a mixing session and you will bias yourself to what you're used to hearing - good or bad.
    Daniele Nasuti likes this.
  5. Please.

    Just paying it forward.

    Yeah, you can get a lot of ideas there. Don't take anything as a rule, though. There are no rules, just techniques. Use YouTube and other educational material just for learning techniques, don't take anything at face value (like that one post on VI where someone said that it's better to EQ every track the same way, instead of just dropping one EQ on the master because they heard it in a video or read it in book, and it took me less than a minute to prove it false). Always try it all out yourself and add it to your arsenal of techniques. In the end, you learn by doing, like with anything else. So dive in. Once you get the techniques down, it just comes down to "tinker, compare, repeat".
  6. Hi guys,

    I can't tell you how grateful I am that you guys are taking the time to help me out. Really, thanks.

    Now, most of the advice you guys have given me I'm already familiar with, and I have tried to apply in one way or another. I've scoured YouTube, taken 4 or 5 Mike Verta courses including Template Balancing, have read Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio, The Mixing Engineer's Handbook, The Art of Mixing a Visual Guide, many ebooks including one specifically for mixing orchestral music, have taken some courses and all that stuff. And I'm sure I have lots of work to do when it comes to applying all that information.

    So I guess what I'm saying is, I really do need some specifics on this particular piece to get me closer to where I want to be.

    I've made some adjustments to the piece which include adding reverb to the Iconica samples, making the whole thing a bit wetter overall, some minor eq adjustments, turning down the brass just a bit, slightly extending the panning of the strings and brass, and "fixing" the trombones (I'll let you guys be the judge haha).

    So I'm linking two files, the revision of my piece, and that same revised piece with the brass muted, so that you can hear the rest of the orchestra and it's balance better. I'd like to know:

    1. Is this an improvement from my last upload?

    2. What's your opinion on the balance and depth of all the different sections?

    Revised piece: https://www.dropbox.com/s/wfmtmps170lh7tz/Hollywood Fanfare New.wav?dl=0

    Revised piece brass muted: https://www.dropbox.com/s/ywbdqmiunsul4qd/Hollywood Fanfare No Brass.wav?dl=0

    Now I know opinions are opinions, and everyone has different preferences and to take everything with a grain of salt, but I would like to know what YOU think (you can shred me to pieces with criticism if you'd like, I'll survive haha).

    Also, today I tested the piece on many different speaker systems (headphones, monitors, computer speakers, portable speakers, my car), and I was happy to find that it remained fairly consistent across these devices, and I could hear the separate sections/voices clearly enough for my taste. BUT, playing it in the car made me aware of two things for sure:

    1. My overall tonal balance needs work, especially in the low end.

    2. My stereo image feels small compared to professional mixes.

    These are my biggest problems, and what I want to know more than anything else is how to improve in this area. I can live with my current volume/reverb/ depth balance and midi editing as is, though I'm sure I need improvement. But tonal balance and stereo imaging are where I see the biggest difference between my mixes and other mixes.

    Here is an example of my wonky tonal balance that lacks a smooth curve in the low end especially. I froze the image at the end of the last chord of the piece.

    Screenshot (322).png

    So imagine that you have the stems to my piece and you've been hired to mix it. It is exactly as it is in the drop box link, but you have a track for each instrument. What specific things would you DEFINITELY do to try to fix the tonal balance problems shown in the picture above? Or to enhance the stereo image? Would you definitely raise the volumes of some of the lower instruments? Would you definitely boost some lower frequencies? Would you definitely pan things a bit wider, or add some kind of stereo width enhancement to individual instruments, or perhaps the entire thing with a multiband stereo imager?

    Now again, I know that everyone has a different opinion and viewpoint on this stuff, and it can be subjective to a degree, but I want to know those opinions. I want to know how someone else would do it. These are the kind of answers I really need. I already know all the "theory" so to speak.

    And again, thanks a ton for taking the time out to help. It means a lot to someone who has been doing it all on their own for years.
  7. To my ear yes, but the trombones/reverb are not much better. There's more clarity than the first version.
    The trombones are still too distant and dry (at :13-:16), their level is fine on the last chord. The high brass are a little too hot on the last chord. I'd keep the trumpet/horn timbre and lower their volume there. The harp flourishes on the last chord are also unrealistically loud. The string runs are more noticeable in this latest mix which is better.
    Agreed. Looking at the snapshot of the last chord you may have cut too aggressively from 300Hz and lower for select instruments (low brass, low strings). Did you EQ your reverb?
    I think this should be your last priority. Have you heard how it sounds in mono?
    I think you can still tweak the reverb. There's clearly different reverb tail lengths when you hear the release of the last chord. It sounds like different groups in different spaces, which is probably not the effect you're going for. If you can match the shorts of your wetter library with the reverb applied to your dry library (and maybe add a touch of reverb tail to the summed groups after the libraries are matched up) then I think you'll hear a difference.

    It's hard for me to tackle your last round of questions, because a) there's better ears for mixing than mine on here, and b) I'd need to see how you routed it and the FX applied. I'd pay someone to mix the stems and see how their mix differed from mine (they'd probably want you to cut out the reverb and apply their own). That's one way to learn and I know there's some folks that freelance with that here on Redbanned. Because the tune is so short it probably wouldn't cost the moon - you can probably private message a couple of folks and see if they can work it into their schedule. You can chase your tail turning up track volume, or changing CC1, CC7, CC11 data, then messing with EQ (dynamic, mid/side, whatever). Hearing each balanced orchestral section in isolation and then comparing combinations of sections would probably help the overall sound (that would probably be my first step - balance volume, pan, reverb and EQ).

    Another thing for the tonal balance, find a audio passage that exemplifies what you're going for (Universal Theme, 20th Century, insert your favorite fanfare here...) and check the spectrum to compare. It can guide some of your overall EQ and reverb choices. Also, if you have any of Mike's stems from his tutorials, then you can see how to balance/blend the brass/strings/winds/percussion. If you can mix those stems, then you'll learn more about your preferred workflow and apply it to your fanfare stems.

    I'd be remiss if I didn't say I enjoyed your piece and recognize your drive to add new tools to your toolkit! I'll drop out of the thread while the real mixers chime in with specifics. Cheers.
  8. Maybe send a pm to @Alexander Schiborr or @Kyle Judkins , they often have some more pointed thoughts about mixing libraries and a lot of your topics mentioned above. They might miss this thread.
  9. maybe a little parallel compression added to the brass would help give it some punch? at the moment, it's hard to feel the dynamics of the brass, which ends up making them feel 2 dimensional and flat, regardless of respective volume

    just be sure you're doing everything you can on the CC end of the deal before you start adding plugins ect.

    I usually just arm violins 1 and 2, and French horns or trumpets, and ride the mod wheel all the way up and find the balance that puts the brass *just* over the edge.

    one of the issues is that if you don't get the maximum volumes balanced, then you can't track accurately with CC1.
  10. I have only my laptop speakers as a reference so take it with a bit grain of salt. However a general note I feel that the brass is overall too loud and powerful in comparison balanced to the rest. You canĀ“t barely make out any of the string lines because the brass is just smashing with ff all the time overpowering and destroying any details. Can be also also a simple dynamic marking down maybe? Instead of blasting ff all the time, make it more musical and go forte at the end? stylistically it is also that the final chord is not at all feeling grandioso and big because you fired up everything before..it is just loud loud loud..and loud.
  11. Here that is something I would recommend you to listen to, it is not the blasting sound which makes a fanfare in that style great.


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