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Mixing a classical music recording

Postby stefan.pynappels » Thu Aug 29, 2019 2:56 pm

Hi all,

I've downloaded one of the multitrack packs from the linked location provided by Mike, (thanks for an awesome resource), specifically Mozart's Piano Concerto No.12.

I've been working on it in Ardour, looking at things like relative levels and positioning tracks sensibly in the Stereo mix.

For example, I've tried to place the various instrument spot tracks roughly where the instrument would sit in a normal orchestra, and I've tried to use the various stereo pairs at levels and places in the mix to simulate what I know orchestras I've been to see would feel like.

As there are no vocals, that's one less thing to worry about, but for me the whole point was to replicate the sound heard in a concert hall as faithfully as I could. As no 2 concert halls are the same, this will lead to a different mix than someone else would produce.

I have 2 main questions:
1. Is there something specific to aim for in terms of 'feel' other than making it as pleasant to listen to and as faithful to what an orchestra sounds like to me? I don't want to introduce a bunch of EQ or effects as that doesn't sound natural to me, but is there some convention around this?
2. For an orchestral mix like this with such a dynamic range, would it be usual to apply some (careful) compression and still aim for a loudness normalisation at the cost of some natural sounds, or is that less important than staying faithful to what your ears would hear in a concert hall?

Sorry for the complete noob questions, I am getting close to something which I like the sound of, but I do want to learn what the accepted wisdom around this is too.

Regards,
Stefan
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Re: Mixing a classical music recording

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Aug 29, 2019 3:39 pm

stefan.pynappels wrote:For example, I've tried to place the various instrument spot tracks roughly where the instrument would sit in a normal orchestra...

The idea of the 'spot mics' -- sometimes more appropriately called 'accent mics' -- is to bring just a little extra focus and clarity if the particular instrument is getting a little lost in the sound from the main stereo pair. Often they are not required at all, or only at specific points within the whole performance.

However, to bring focus rather than confusion it is absolutely imperative that the accent mic is panned to precisely the same position where the specific instrument is heard in the main stereo pair. Panning a spot mic to roughly where you think it might be in a generic orchestra is not good enough and will cause blurring of and confusion in the stereo image.

Thankfully, the technique to get the panning right is very simple. You just focus on the specific instrument's position as heard in the main stereo array and, while still listening critically, you simply fade up the relevant accent mic (probably going higher than you will eventually use it in the mix).

Start with the pan-pot central, and as the accent mic becomes more dominant you'll hear the spatial position of that instrument move to the centre. So you then back the fader right off, adjust the pan-pot in the appropriate direction needed to place the accented instrument where ever that source appears in the image from the main stereo array, and repeat the process.

After a couple of fader-pulls and pan tweaks you should be able to fade the accented instrument right up with no detectable change in its angular position; the source should just come forward and more focused. Repeat the process for each individual accent mic, then you can balance them against the main stereo array as appropriate.

I've tried to use the various stereo pairs at levels and places in the mix to simulate what I know orchestras I've been to see would feel like.

Again, it's not usual to combine multiple stereo arrays (other than adding outriggers, perhaps). Often several different 'main arrays' are rigged, to give different perspectives, image widths, image focus, and so on... But you would normally choose the most appropriate one and work with that on its own, supplemented as necessary by accent mics, and maybe with some space mics or outriggers if a little more spaciousness is required.

...for me the whole point was to replicate the sound heard in a concert hall as faithfully as I could. As no 2 concert halls are the same, this will lead to a different mix than someone else would produce.

There is no 'generic' concert hall, so the aim is actually to replicate the sound heard in THE concert hall where the performance took place, as faithfully as you can...

1. Is there something specific to aim for in terms of 'feel' other than making it as pleasant to listen to and as faithful to what an orchestra sounds like to me?

A listener should be able to follow every instrument's contribution to the mix, as defined by the score and balanced by the conductor. The different sections of the orchestra should sit in the right spatial positions, both in terms of left-right and front-back. The orchestra should have a natural sense of scale and depth. The dynamics should seem natural, but managed subtly to suit the constraints (if any) of the intended audience.

2. For an orchestral mix like this with such a dynamic range, would it be usual to apply some (careful) compression and still aim for a loudness normalisation at the cost of some natural sounds, or is that less important than staying faithful to what your ears would hear in a concert hall?

Depends on the intended audience but as no one is going to be listening to this in a concert hall, it's a safe bet to expect to have to manage the dynamic range to be more acceptable in the context of a domestic sitting room, kitchen, car or whatever...

Conventional top-down compression is usually too heavy-handed and obvious, though. Instead, you could try parallel compression, or using a very low ratio (say 1.2:1) with a very low threshold (-40dBFS or lower) so that everything is being squashed a little bit all the time.

However, the usual way is to follow the score and anticipate the performance, pulling or pushing back the main fader gently and slowly in advance of the dynamic changes for a very smooth -- and hopefully unnoticeable -- control.

Sorry for the complete noob questions...

No need to apologise. We've all asked the same questions ourselves at some point!

And don't just take my word for it -- there are as many different views and opinions on balancing classic music as with anything else, and they are all valid in different contexts.

H
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Re: Mixing a classical music recording

Postby stefan.pynappels » Thu Aug 29, 2019 3:53 pm

Thank you so much Hugh for the huge amount if info to work on, that is precisely the sort of feedback I was looking for.

On the section about the spot mics having to be panned to precisely the same place in the stereo pair, that makes sense. I do have a question about the piano tracks in this case.

There are two piano tracks, labelled left and right. I believe two mics are normally used to catch sound from two halves of the piano case (low strings and high strings roughly) so this should not be taken as a stereo pair, but could be treated more as a single track, with the two 'halves' effectively allowing either the lower notes or higher notes to be adjusted separately.

Is this complete hogwash, or have I understood that correctly?

I also appreciate your point about making it sound as it did in the concert hall where it was recorded, that's somewhat difficult in this case as I've never been in Moscow :-)

I have a lot to work on there though, so thank you for the inputs, and when I'm ready for it, I'll definitely present my mix for constructive criticism.

Stefan
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Re: Mixing a classical music recording

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Thu Aug 29, 2019 4:29 pm

stefan.pynappels wrote:There are two piano tracks, labelled left and right. I believe two mics are normally used to catch sound from two halves of the piano case (low strings and high strings roughly) so this should not be taken as a stereo pair...

It is unusual to close mic a piano in a classical context. Typically, the mics are placed as a near-spaced array looking down into the open lid... so they probably should be treated as a stereo pair -- albeit one in which you may need to narrow the width to match the scale and placement of the piano in the orchestra's overall main stereo array.

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the specific mix files you're working on. Were there no notes for the mic placements used?

That said, you may well be able to favour one or other of those mics as a mono accent mic if it suits the mix to work that way, to emphasise the piano's low end or whatever.

I also appreciate your point about making it sound as it did in the concert hall where it was recorded, that's somewhat difficult in this case as I've never been in Moscow :-)

Yes, but the basic sound of the hall should be captured in those mics... Just don't try and make it sound like the Concertgebouw, or the Grosser Musikvereinssaa! :-D

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Re: Mixing a classical music recording

Postby John Willett » Sat Aug 31, 2019 1:41 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:The idea of the 'spot mics' -- sometimes more appropriately called 'accent mics' -- is to bring just a little extra focus and clarity if the particular instrument is getting a little lost in the sound from the main stereo pair. Often they are not required at all, or only at specific points within the whole performance.

However, to bring focus rather than confusion it is absolutely imperative that the accent mic is panned to precisely the same position where the specific instrument is heard in the main stereo pair. Panning a spot mic to roughly where you think it might be in a generic orchestra is not good enough and will cause blurring of and confusion in the stereo image.

Thankfully, the technique to get the panning right is very simple. You just focus on the specific instrument's position as heard in the main stereo array and, while still listening critically, you simply fade up the relevant accent mic (probably going higher than you will eventually use it in the mix).

Start with the pan-pot central, and as the accent mic becomes more dominant you'll hear the spatial position of that instrument move to the centre. So you then back the fader right off, adjust the pan-pot in the appropriate direction needed to place the accented instrument where ever that source appears in the image from the main stereo array, and repeat the process.

After a couple of fader-pulls and pan tweaks you should be able to fade the accented instrument right up with no detectable change in its angular position; the source should just come forward and more focused. Repeat the process for each individual accent mic, then you can balance them against the main stereo array as appropriate.

:thumbup: Perfect :thumbup:
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Re: Mixing a classical music recording (Feedback Request)

Postby stefan.pynappels » Sat Aug 31, 2019 11:40 pm

Thanks so much for the awesome advice, I started from scratch with this one, and followed your advice for ensuring that the various spot tracks are in the right places in the stereo mix, and I think I'm pretty close on that one.

I have also decided not to use the hall tracks, and only use very little of the outrigger tracks. I've also limited the use of spot tracks to the Bass and Cello, and a very little on the Woodwind. Having less tracks in the mix means that I've not had to worry about the cumulative effect and I'm not having the issues with the signal needing any compression or gain/fader riding.

A work-in-progress mix can be found at https://soundcloud.com/user-671967567-2 ... r1-session and I'd appreciate any feedback on major mistakes you can hear, or even if I've got the panning right for the woodwind, cello and bass spot mics.

In the to-do list are cleaning up the strings a little and trying to balance the piano and strings a little better. Any additional items to look at would be appreciated, I've learnt a lot on this one already. Thanks for being willing to help out a complete noob!

Stefan
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Re: Mixing a classical music recording

Postby Ariosto » Sun Sep 01, 2019 3:44 pm

I'm going to make some suggestions and stick my neck out a bit. I appreciate who the players are and I don't want to be too harsh on the recording. However, at approx. 19 seconds in the horns suddenly blast very loudly in your mix, and I thnk this should be brought down by several dB. Also, the piano sounds rather harsh and unfocussed and there is a general sound of mush. It all sounds a bit close miked with added reverb, but this of course may not be the case. Maybe I'm expecting to much of what I gather are young student players. But maybe also the original recording with possibly several tracks may not have been well done, as maybe the hall had poor acoustics. Anyway, the mix you have carried out is OK but not to my personal preference, but others may disagree. At least you have had a good try and maybe you will succeed with another attempt. Good luck!
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Re: Mixing a classical music recording

Postby stefan.pynappels » Sun Sep 01, 2019 3:54 pm

Ariosto wrote:I'm going to make some suggestions and stick my neck out a bit.
....
At least you have had a good try and maybe you will succeed with another attempt. Good luck!

I appreciate any feedback, and it's a work in progress. The piano sections are still on my todo list, I want to try and use the piano spot pair to clean that up a bit, the challenge there will be to drop the main pair while bringing the spot pair in without making it too obvious.

Will take a look at the horns, although it may be the woodwind rather than brass that is coming too hot, thanks for the input though.
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Re: Mixing a classical music recording

Postby Ariosto » Sun Sep 01, 2019 4:43 pm

stefan.pynappels wrote:
Ariosto wrote:I'm going to make some suggestions and stick my neck out a bit.
....
At least you have had a good try and maybe you will succeed with another attempt. Good luck!

I appreciate any feedback, and it's a work in progress. The piano sections are still on my todo list, I want to try and use the piano spot pair to clean that up a bit, the challenge there will be to drop the main pair while bringing the spot pair in without making it too obvious.

Will take a look at the horns, although it may be the woodwind rather than brass that is coming too hot, thanks for the input though.
Yes, it was hard to decide if it was horns or woodwind or a mix of both at 0:19

I've played this concerto in orchestras I don't know how many times but I can't remember the details of the orchestration offhand and I haven't a score. Mozart usually uses horns in this way. The overall sound is maybe a little brash and it may not be possible for you to change this much. Good luck anyway!
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Re: Mixing a classical music recording

Postby stefan.pynappels » Fri Sep 06, 2019 11:10 pm

So after spending quite a lot of time fiddling with the piano sound, I think it sounds better, less muddy.

I still need to do something about the woodwind, and sort out the excessive levels a little, but I think it's going in the right direction.

Still looking for other feedback on it though...
https://soundcloud.com/user-671967567-2 ... r2-session

Regards,
Stefan
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