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Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby ulrichburke » Thu May 28, 2020 12:11 am

Dear Anyone.

OK. The reason I'm not posting a piece for delectation here yet is because, unlike most of you, I don't have access to a Spitfire-Strings type library and Kontakt Multisampled Pianos. Or similar! I'm a financially challenged(!) disabled guy who loves writing piano'n'strings New Age-type music, but really needs help on basically mixing the stuff.

I've got Edirol Orchestral (legit!) a very good stringpad soundfont (lots of soundfonts but JR-PADstring and the Big Money pad are lovely - you can use EQ to make them sound totally different in different mixes. Which is great when you burst into tears as you look at ANOTHER synth VST with 2000 buttons and knobs on it! I know the BASICS of synths but these nightmare button panels are why I tend to use soundfonts. At least you know what sound you're going to get and it's controllable.)

Now unless anyone can tell me another piano to use, I usually use the Edirol one because as it's in the same set as its own strings, they sound (to me) like they belong together. But on the whole I flat cannot make piano and strings (including pads) sit well together, nearly every piece sounds like it OUGHT to be working (mixwise) but somehow it ISN'T. Every so often I get one right, then I do the same things to the next one and it sounds awful and I can't work out why what worked for one won't work for another.

Edirol strings aren't BAD, they're just synthy. Which is fine for New Age, I've heard worse on YouTube, just mixed far better! Would anyone be able to give me some general basic tips on making strings sound nice behind a piano, so they're not fighting eachother, just like any of the New Age stuff on YouTube, so I could get one good enough to submit to your ears here, then you could criticise it further so I could get it better? And if I learned enough to get one passable enough for You Tube - my dream - would I be able to use the same tips on all the others or is mixing each piano'n'strings (and sometimes another instrument chucked in like a guitar/clarinet etc.) track so individual that what applies to one can never apply to another?

I know what most of the effects DO, I'm just lost in a maze of when to use which where and why. And I've watched a zillion videos and tried out everything they say and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't and when it doesn't I'm back at square 1 again because I flat can't (usually) see what to do to rectify things.

So yes, I'm the proud owner of a thousand and one crap mixes. I'd say a lot of the actual COMPOSITIONS stand up to others I've heard FAIRLY well (I'm not Mozart!) it's just getting the hang of the mixing and being not in a position to pay someone to mix them for me.

Would anyone have the patience to help me understand the basics that I can use on all those type of pieces?

Yours hopefully - once I've got one a BIT right I'm happy to put it up for further improvement -

Chris.
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby Eddy Deegan » Thu May 28, 2020 12:28 am

I was once a concert pianist, now I'm a synth man, and while not as good at mixing and arrangement as some folks here I'm not without experience of both. Also the members here that specialise in mixing and arrangement are great people to ask for input.

I don't use any of the libraries you mention, but have had a lot of good feedback on mixes I've done using the ROM samples in synth workstations.

In my experience it's more about the work than the technology. Also, I've yet to find a better piano than pianoteq (I'll add that, perhaps surprisingly, the stock piano in the latest Roland Fantom is really good).

Post something. We're not going to rip on you for it, but can give you useful feedback.
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby ulrichburke » Thu May 28, 2020 1:05 am

(Takes a deep breath!!)

Dear Eddie.

Will do that in the morning (it's 1am now!) and thanks for saying that - I've been howled at for my attempts at mixing like you wouldn't believe, on other forums.

I KNOW they're not good. I KNOW they sound like I spent about ten minutes chucking random effects on - it's usually more like 4 hours or more!! - but it's just cos I don't know what I'm doing. I'm not even trying to do Full On String Parts - just a nice backing to sit behind a noodling piano, on the whole. I'd do more complicated string parts if I could get the simple ones mixed right!!

Music for Dogs to Sing To will appear in a few hours. You have been warned...>!!

Yours respectfully

Chris.
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby Eddy Deegan » Thu May 28, 2020 1:42 am

ulrichburke wrote:I KNOW they're not good. I KNOW they sound like I spent about ten minutes chucking random effects on - it's usually more like 4 hours or more!! - but it's just cos I don't know what I'm doing.
...
Music for Dogs to Sing To will appear in a few hours. You have been warned...>!!

It's all good - you've clearly indicated that you don't think the mix is the best thing since sliced bread, and you've also clearly indicated you could use some input, so I see no problem here. Most of us have been in similar situations in the past and everyone has to learn from somewhere.

If you want input on the mix, input on the mix you shall get. I look forward to hearing your work and I'll certainly give you some constructive feedback in the spirit of your request. I'm sure some other good folks here will also. :thumbup:
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby innerchord » Thu May 28, 2020 3:24 am

Hey Chris,

If it's new-age style sounds you're after then presumably you are not thinking orchestral realism, but synthy textures and lots of nice reverb. Maybe an authentic piano, though?
I simply wouldn't bother with Edirol and soundfonts, however you mix them. You (and the dogs) are barking up the wrong tree. You'll get much better results if you start with good sounds. For nothing, or the price of a couple of sandwiches perhaps, there are some very good sounds available. What sort of thing are you aiming for?
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby ulrichburke » Thu May 28, 2020 7:02 am

Dear Innerchord.

Basically I use computer sounds cos I'm disabled (Cerebral Palsy/Hydrocephalus/ Asperger's/Dyspraxia) so got bad co-ordination and find a mouse much easier - besides, wouldn't be able to get a piano up the stairs to my place!

Here's 2 examples of the kind of stuff I try to write, I'm putting up one of my own today as well. This from about 1 min 30 in...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERGGPB_ok18

and this all the way through, really....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSzz6FMJusw

It's depressing, it sounds like something it should be so easy to do mixwise, but 95% of mine sound as if there's a passable piece in there somewhere but it shoore aint getting out!

Basically, left hand's slightly paralysed so it's easier for me to use a mouse and just put the notes in with notation. I tend to write more like the first than the second but I do do upbeat stuff and I'd do more using New Agey synths and pads if only I understood more about how they got/where they got their sounds from. I know people say 'presets' but that can be the problem - I've got Dexed with 3,000 presets, each preset is morphable about 5 ways at the click of a mouse so that's 15,000 presets in effect - try finding the one sound you want amongst that lot! Last link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_4HVAT ... C6-ipKhmno

That's Karunesh. I've got a perfect twangy thingy (technical name there!) for the lead sound but I can't get that kind of background for love nor money. I've got sounds that sound like they OUGHT to be able to do it, but not in my hands. And there's LOADS of similar guys who all sound like they're sharing the same sound library and mixing knowledge and I just don't see how they do it. Main thing I don't see IS - every so often I get one right. Then I try the same techniques on the next one using the same sounds and it sounds awful again. And I don't know why! So the ones I get right are blind luck. Not saying the COMPOSITIONS are up to their standard, probably not, got no illusions there. It's just the MIXES - because I don't see really why the ones work that do work, I don't understand why doing the same things on the next one doesn't work!

So I'll put a couple of mine up for you experts to wince at - feel free! - and hopefully, says the Asperger's guy, I might get a few rules-of-thumb to use when doing a mix. Us Aspergers' folk love rules, we know where we are with them. I know mixing's more judgement than rules but there's gotta be SOME go-to starting rules, it can't ALL be quicksand surely?

Yours hopefully

Chris.
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby Logarhythm » Thu May 28, 2020 2:09 pm

I have really fond memories of using Edirol Orchestral. As you know, it isn't really comparable with the enormous modern orchestral libraries, but for its size and age it is far from terrible, IMO.
Admittedly there may be an element of rose-tinted glasses here, as I was using it at a time when I had near-endless inspiration, and lots of opportunity to do something about it (although admittedly I should have been writing a thesis instead).
I found that some of the transitions between samples could be rather jarring, and some instruments within it worked better in some parts.of their natural range than they did in others, so ended up doing some workarounds to get the best sound out of it. If you're using the "full strings" patch, you may get some benefit by replacing with individual violins, violas etc, as you can then control individual levels, double up parts etc to have more control over the texture you want. Approaching as much of this as you can at the arrangement stage should make mixing easier, as you're hopefully then starting from closer to where you want to be.

Getting the hang of the basics of synths gives you access to an immeasurable range of sound options, but I guess that coming into that today where thousands of patches are available can be daunting. If it's something you wanted to explore, SOS has a fantastic series of articles on it - you can work through these at your own pace as you want: https://www.soundonsound.com/series/synth-secrets

It might also help to start with a simpler synth so it's easier to follow through the Synth Secrets articles without having lots of controls/options that you don't (yet) need. For example, I quite like Helm, and it's free (well, donationware ;) ): https://tytel.org/helm/

And since you mentioned Spitfire... this link was kindly shared in the Mac forum - gives you a free copy of Spitfire's BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover:

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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby Martin Walker » Thu May 28, 2020 2:32 pm

Logarhythm wrote:I have really fond memories of using Edirol Orchestral. As you know, it isn't really comparable with the enormous modern orchestral libraries, but for its size and age it is far from terrible, IMO.
Admittedly there may be an element of rose-tinted glasses here, as I was using it at a time when I had near-endless inspiration, and lots of opportunity to do something about it (although admittedly I should have been writing a thesis instead).

I'm glad someone else said this, as I was also been impressed by Edirol Orchestral for its time and just how easy it was to use. The way it set up various orchestral ensembles, complete with suitable panning for each group, made it really easy to get started just by entering the notes.

In fact, some years ago I contacted Edirol, who kindly arranged for an 'educational' copy for me to give to the choirmaster at my local church. He subsequently used it to mock up some orchestral arrangements to accompany the choir, who my wife sang with at the time. I attended several concerts by them, even one of The Armed Man (a Mass by Karl Jenkins, ex Soft Machine), and was well impressed with the results considering the choirmaster had very basic computing skills.


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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby ulrichburke » Fri May 29, 2020 7:46 pm

Dear Everyone.

OK, so here's my latest effort....

https://soundcloud.com/ulrichburke/wher ... -from-here

....and the title means exactly that - if anyone wants to tell me how to improve the mix, don't feel shy, you say it, I'll try it out! And if it's a bit of knowledge I can use on other piano, strings/n/pads pieces I've got too - which is loads!! - that really would be appreciated. As it's all the same kinda sounds, there's got to be a goto list of things you do to make them sound good and anything else is just putting icing on the cake. Thing IS - I'm not seeing what the basic list IS! (If the Martin Walker here is the same Martin Walker who did an absolutely classic album 'Secret of Trees', he'll know exactly what to do straight off - that's been one of my fave albums for many years now. Or anyone else! Don't worry about hurting my feelings - you don't learn that way.

And here's the ref. track for what I'd like to make the mix sound like....

https://soundcloud.com/ulrichburke/the- ... s-original

I love Frank Mills - not the guy from 'Hair', the guy from 'Music Box Dancer'. He has to break records for repeated riffs - but somehow it works for him! And I'd love to know how he gets everything so crisp and clear yet nothing's obscuring anything else (much - the occasional flute note gets lost but that doesn't matter, it's just an atmosphere sound.)

Like I say, I'll try anything anyone suggests and upload the result.

Yours respectfully

Chris. Thanks in advance, all. I really want to crack this thing!
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby Eddy Deegan » Sat May 30, 2020 1:48 am

Before I dive into the critical feedback, you are certainly heading in the right direction insofar as your piece is recognisably of he same genre as your reference piece and I think it is an upbeat and happy one, albeit not recorded in an upbeat and happy manner ;)

A few immediate critical observations:

The piano part is "ok" for the genre you trying to achieve but is rather repetitive and a bit on the simple side. If you listen to the reference track you'll hear he uses trills and moves up and down the range of the keyboard more.

Additionally, the piano sound you are using is very boxy and lacks the top end crispness of the reference track. It sounds like it's got quite a lot of short reverb on it and is mixed rather on the wet side. Adding a little more variation and range to the piano part, using a better sound with more "life" to it and working on adding some trills and embellishments here and there would make a big difference.

The drum part is extremely simple and repetitive. It doesn't really do much at all, has no 'life' to it (it sounds a bit boring and mechanical) and the kick sounds more like a click. Compared to the reference track, like the piano part, the drums could do with more variation and a better range of sounds.

The strings sound a bit "lifeless"; they don't have a lot of movement in them and follow the piano part very closely and predictably instead of doing more of a counterpart to it.

Your piece sticks pretty much to the same basic rhythm all the way through with little variation. This quickly gets wearing on the ear... if you listen to the reference piece you'll hear a lot more rhythmic variation.

The reference piece has a number of additional parts; bass, guitars, flute ... and these add more texture and variety to the backing mix which maintains interest. You've got a hint of that going on but could do with some more I think.

I could give you some feedback on the mix itself but in all honesty I don't think it's ready for that yet. Focus on the composition and the choice of sounds first, especially the piano. I think it does need working on, and once it's got a little more going on in terms of variety and texture, that would be the point to start thinking more about the mix.

Back off on the EQ and FX while working on the piece, and then apply them sparingly when the time comes to mix it. Don't try composing/recording and mixing at the same time.

Don't be discouraged; I really can see what you're trying to achieve here :wave:
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby ulrichburke » Sat May 30, 2020 3:12 am

Dear Eddy.

First of all - thanks for the wonderful critique, it's just what I need!

Secondly, re. the strings - and no, this is NOT me trying to justify myself for I do agree with you - they started off with more variety, like the other guy's, but I flat couldn't stop them from overwhelming the piano, I never can. It always ends up sounding like a dogfight between the piano and the strings for supremacy in the mix, not like they're working together like in his, even though the comparative volume levels were roughly the same in the variations, and I honestly don't know why. So for sure I'll put the variation back - but you'll probably have to put up with them sounding like they're having a battle royale with the piano and then tell me how to get around that.

In self-defence there's a lot of others having that problem, that's why New Age strings TEND to sound like they're in a different city to the New Age piano they're accompanying over Skype! (Kevin Kern, par example!) But you are right in all you say and it will all be done. Just not at 3am, considering I'm living next door to a guy who's got a big love-heart and 'I LOVE MY MOTHER fitting easily as a tattoo on the same bicep!

Expect a re-upload sometime today. The soggy strings were pure desperation, trying to keep them away from the piano. All my mixing choices are pure desperation. I've watched a thousand (exaggeration but you know what I mean) vids. about mixing, it all works for them, it never seems to work for me and I never know why.

Basically I think you're gold dust and I'll do all you say, re-upload, you can smile at the paucity of the changes, re-critique and if you don't get tired of my efforts we'll go on from there!

How's that sound?

Yours respectfully

Chris.
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby innerchord » Sat May 30, 2020 4:37 am

Hi Chris,

You posted three examples, all completely different types of music, so it's very hard to suggest any mixing techniques.

I then listened to your track, and I'm going to keep my reply simple. It's simply a repeat of what I said before and what I suspected. Do yourself a favour and stop hanging on to dated sound libraries. If you were to spend even a tiny amount of time and (perhaps) money on better sounds you will find that they will gel together much more successfully and with less effort.

Also, you'll need to learn more about using reverberation.
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby ulrichburke » Sat May 30, 2020 5:21 am

Dear Innerchord.

You're right about needing to know more about using reverb, despite looking at many videos and trying to do what they say - how do you suggest I use it?

Re: the sound packages - the honest response is confusion. I've never really gotten the hang of programming synths, so the answer would seem to be a mass of presets. So I downloaded Dexed with 3,000(!!) of the things - and discovered each preset is morphable 5 ways (roughly) at the click of a mouse so you end up with about fifteen thousand presets. It's needle in a haystack, of course the right one's there SOMEWHERE - probably - but considering the original versions all have names like 'Frying Ants on Jupiter' how are you to know that the Fourth Morph of that is the sound you've been looking for for a month! That's honestly why I tend to stick to sounds I at least partially understand.

If you give me a bunch of tips on how to use the effects (the 'how' including 'where' and 'when'!) I'll do it. I closely followed (or thought I was) videos on effects when writing the pieces I posted and you're right - they all still came out pretty bad effects wise. That's why I posted them - so people wouldn't just say 'you need to know this' but would actually tell me how they'd do it and then, hopefully, re-criticise the reposts. Slowly hone away the levels of badness and - again hopefully - leave a new sharpness of understanding at the end.

How would you go about finding the sound you want in a library of 15,000 of them? Do you go through them all and give them new names, the meanings of which you hope will still make sense to you 6 months down the road, or do you have another way of doing it?

Main sample-centre is Dexed at the moment. I've got East West SOMEWHERE - I think, on an old hard drive - but I never could get it sounding as good out the box as Edirol does, despite days trying. I know it can sound better than Edirol but it's like watching Gordon Ramsay and trying to cook the meal he made for yourself. (If you can do that after watching a chef prog. once, respect!)

So if you've got any advice on HOW/WHEN to use Reverb - other than telling me to watch yet another YouTube vid. which prob. won't help cos it'll be about synth/dance music, they all tend to be, or hyperrealism, which New Age isn't - then I'll do it. New Age lives in the twilight between reality and fakeness, loads of 'string backings' are essentially pads, they sound like pads, but they get away with it cos they're used better than mine. My best pads sound (more or less) like theirs but I don't know how to mix them as well.

So basically - you're right, I need to learn more. That's why I'm here. If you feel you can teach me anything, go for it!

Yours respectfully

Chris.
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby innerchord » Sat May 30, 2020 9:36 pm

Honestly Chris, it sounds like you need to simplify things.

Reverb choices can be learnt easily. There must be a few good tutorials scattered over the internet.

ulrichburke wrote:So I downloaded Dexed with 3,000(!!) of the things

Well, why just an FM synth? You would get more mileage from a good ROMpler/workstation. Limit your choices and work from there. Don't have, say, 100 basses. Have 10 (max) options instead, with a little editing or sound-shaping for each one if needed.

ulrichburke wrote:I've got East West SOMEWHERE

Which EW?? There are dozens.

I appreciate you use mouse-entry for notes, but what PC and DAW do you use?
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Re: Advice on mixing piano, strings and pads into a New Agey piece needed!

Postby blinddrew » Sat May 30, 2020 10:38 pm

ulrichburke wrote:So if you've got any advice on HOW/WHEN to use Reverb - other than telling me to watch yet another YouTube vid. which prob. won't help cos it'll be about synth/dance music, they all tend to be, or hyperrealism, which New Age isn't - then I'll do it.
Apologies in advance for any egg-sucking, I'm writing this from the basics (because that's where I am!)

Last month's SOS had a feature on reverb and how to understand the tools (https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... e-knobs-do) but as to when to use it there tends to be two main uses.
1) To make it sound like a collection of sounds were played/recorded in the same space,
2) As a effect to change the feel / timbre of a sound.

Looking at the first case, there are a couple of sub-reasons why you might want this. One is to present the illusion that a bunch of tracks were recorded simultaneously as a band or group. The other is possibly more relevant to your genre, and that's to give everything a sense of coherency. If your keyboard sounds like it's in a cathedral, your drums in an anechoic chamber and your vocals in a living room, then you're making it pretty hard work for your listener.
So for this kind of thing you'll generally set up a reverb on a separate bus/channel and then add a send from your main instruments to this. Then send this back to the master bus. This way all your instruments are all coming into, and interacting in, the same virtual space so that they hang together. You can then balance between the dry signal and the send level to get the effect you want. There's more you can do with distancing but we can discuss that later.
I'll sometimes have an FX reverb on a send as well, which will have some crazy length and probably a few other processors on as well. Which i'll automate things to occasionally to provide some ear candy.

The second case, changing or manipulating a sound is really a case of whatever floats your boat, but in this case you might add the reverb as an insert effect (rather than a send) so that it only affects that instrument.

But with both of these it's important to understand what job you're trying to achieve and choose the tool accordingly. For example, frequently using a delay (especially with a bit of pingpong or autopan) can get you a reverb like effect but doesn't fill up you mix with mush.

If you've not encountered it already I'd seriously recommend having a look at Mike Senior's book Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio.
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