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Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

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Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby ulrichburke » Sat Sep 26, 2020 3:51 am

Dear Anyone!

Getting a BIT better at mixing but have a really STOOPID pair of questions to ask. Wish I could attach screenshots but I can't find any way to do it here, anyway.

When I complete a piece of music, its waveform's approximately half a centimeter tall It sounds more or less mixed - I'm not good at mixing, just a bit better than I WAS! - but it's skinnier than Usein Bolt. It's synthy New Age.

Then I see a Karunesh - or one of many others' - waveforms and it's a blue brick. Seriously. That thing's totally filling up Audacity! It LOOKS like it should be clipping like a hairdresser on overdrive but it's not, it's just a sleek, fat, richness of sound. I could take all the EQ off my sounds and the waveform - I don't say the SOUNDS, cos I agree he's probably spent my bank balance on his! - wouldn't be anywhere near that size. How's he doing it? That's Question One.

Here's the qualifying second question. I know people'll say 'Compression!' But the whole point of compression - and I've looked this up loads - is to SQUASH a wave form - hence the name! - and therefore make it THINNER - you can't squash something and make it FATTER, can you? And everything I've read about compression says it makes things QUIETER, that it's GAIN that makes things louder. Here's the actual question.

What are they using to get such a rich, HEWGE waveform, why isn't it (quite!) clipping despite its size and how do I emulate it? I've got Nightshine, Blockfish, O.T. T., MDEX and 5orcery (five-band) compressors. Is there a set of 'always do this to get a fat rich waveform' rules? (I've got Aspergers, us Aspies LOVE rules to work by, think of me as Data in StarTrek!)

Hope someone answers.

Yours respectfully

Chris.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby RichardT » Sat Sep 26, 2020 8:35 am

Hi Chris, you need to use a combination of compression and gain to get that result. Or you can use a limiter.

If you use compression, it will bring down the loudest sounds but leave the quieter ones as they were. Then, if you increase the gain to bring the peaks back to where they were, the effect will be that the quieter sounds are now louder. result!

You can do this with a limiter instead. This is probably how it was done on the commercial tracks you are comparing to. A limiter applies very powerful compression and gain at the same time. It’s normally done on the master bus as the last plugin. I don’t know if you have access to a limiter, but most modern DAWs have one.

In fact, the commercial tracks probably apply both these techniques - compression/gain first then limiting.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby The Elf » Sat Sep 26, 2020 9:30 am

...and clipping. Lots of clipping in commercial dance tracks.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby blinddrew » Sat Sep 26, 2020 10:15 am

I think it's time for some decent reading material, I recommend Mike Senior's books: Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio, and the companion Recording Secrets.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby RichardT » Sat Sep 26, 2020 11:00 am

blinddrew wrote:I think it's time for some decent reading material, I recommend Mike Senior's books: Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio, and the companion Recording Secrets.

Yes, good idea. Very systematic and well organised, which should suit the OP.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby ulrichburke » Sat Sep 26, 2020 12:28 pm

Dear Everyone.

Thanks for all your answers, here's the thing.

I mix so it sounds nice to me as far as it goes. Then I read what you're supposed to do next, unless you've got tons of money for a real recording studio, is to put the .WAV into Audacity and use the compressor in Audacity to mesh the tracks together.

When the track comes out of QSE, it's just a stereo track. So I read that you just could use the compressor in Audacity as it is and it would be OK most times. So I didn't REALLY understand when to use/change the settings - I tried but nothing was helping - so I just pressed YES and prayed a bit and for the first few tracks it worked. Or seemed to, till I thought about the situation.

I realised I was making the sounds quieter and quieter in the mix to allow for the effect of the compressor in Audacity. So I started REALLY reading up about compression and EQ and mixing in general and got a TON of information, all of it contradictory. Always use high-pass on everything. No that's wrong, never use high-pass, it takes out the 'good' low end. No that's wrong, use it SOMETIMES. No, there's no rules, use your ears. And so on.

So I was ending up with a ton of tracks that didn't sound as full and rich as the comparison tracks. I looked up why and discovered it was back to good old compression. I started putting compression on everything and despite trying loads of settings it was all SOUNDING squashed. The elephant was in the room and sitting on top of all the tracks!

Then I wrote another track - the one I'm trying to get right, right now - and it was sounding OK till I hit this same old problem. Finished the track and the initial mix - reverb, EQ, sound balancing - sounded good. So I chucked it into Audacity, tried a bit of compression and got the same old problems - some instruments immediately became massively too loud, which made others sound too faint in comparison. So I listened to which ones sounded too loud and went back to the original piece and was starting to turn them down when I realised I'd been here before, a few thousand times quite literally. I was killing the mix for the sake of the compressor.

I've got books on mixing and they all tell you to buy vastly expensive hardware, spend thousands on making the room sound right, more on huge physical synths. They tell you what everything DOES, but not when to use it, they say 'that depends on the track'. So I've ended up knowing what every control DOES but not when it's the right thing to use. Like a track's too quiet. Compression and make up gain would make it louder. So would turning up the volume. When would you do the first and when would you do the second? Rhetorical question but that's the kind of thing I'm hitting all the time. And I try both and sometimes one sounds better than the other but usually neither sound RIGHT. And that goes for all other options. Like EQ's getting rid of frequencies. If I moved the chord down an octave that would also remove the clashing frequencies! So I try both and sometimes one works better than the other but usually neither sound RIGHT. It's as though there's a middle path I'm simply not seeing.

So OK, I got Asperger's. Doesn't mean I can't learn. How DO you know when to use which possibility where? What tells you when to use EQ and when to just move the chord down an octave, for instance? Or just turn the sound down? How do you get a track ready to be compressed without having to make all the sounds stupidly quiet? If you've got the sounds sounding nice together in the original MIDI, how DO you add richness to the track either in Audacity or in anything else? Everything I read says 'that's compression, brings the tops and bottoms of the sounds together so you can hear the nuances' but it DOESN'T tell you that some sounds will react more than others to it, so you end up with those sticking out like sore thumbs! I know I can turn those down and re-Audacity the thing - I don't know what other finisher to use, that's why I use Audacity, it's not just because it's freeware - but in the original MIDI you end up with everything sounding 'off', what had been a nice-sounding piece sounds awful just because you're trying to allow for the finisher.

I do know what compression, EQ, spatialization and most of the rest of it does, it's when to use what where and why. I know what every control in the cockpit of a fighter plane does too but doesn't mean I can fly one!

I've just read you shouldn't slap a limiter on the 'out' of your piece. And that you should. And that software emulations are no match for hardware. And that they're better than hardware.......!!!

If only these websites could make their minds up, I might actually GET SOMEWHERE with all of this!

Sorry for the length of the above but it's totally from the heart, all of that is, and I just dunno where to go or what to try next so I guess it's over to you. When I've got £45 I'll get the book, sure, but I bet it just tells me what everything does, not when to use it, same as the other books I've got. Could any of you give me any ideas to keep me going so I can actually make ONE piece worth listening to as a mix?

Yours hopefully - sorry again for the length of this but there's a LOT of feelings there!!

Chris.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby desmond » Sat Sep 26, 2020 1:02 pm

The thing that you're discovering is that you want an easy recipe to always apply without having to think about it, to save yourself the effort of understanding how to listen, to understand what needs doing, and the skill use the right tools to achieve that. Basically, you're hoping to sidestep the skill & experience part and just hit a "make sound pro" button.

The thing is, in the creative arts, there are no real recipes. People do what they like to make their art.

The answer to your question of "how do you know what to use and when to use it and how to use it" is - you develop *skill*. You do that by making music, striving to get better, reading around, understanding the fundamentals, trying stuff out, finding what works and what doesn't work for you, listening, analysing what's different about the way your music sounds compared to the music you like, and over time, your experience grows, and your skill grows. After a while, you *do* start to understand what you are hearing, and known what you want to change, and how to do it.

But there aren't a lot of shortcuts to this (other than plugin presets I guess) and one of the real problems these days is that everyone starts with *all* the tools at their disposal, unlike back in the day when we had little and had to maximise what we had.

I've been learning the guitar for ages. There is no "make fingers sound good now" button. I *have* to just play, and learn, and tolerate that it will sound bad until one day, it doesn't sound quite as bad - and eventually, it starts to sound Ok. It's a journey that takes time and effort, and therefore you have to enjoy it to endure it.

If you want some concrete help, you can always put up your mix with a specific query like "it's too quiet what can I do" and get some suggestions here from people who can hear your music and make appropriate suggestions for you to try, and experiment with (and hopefully gain a better understanding of what you're doing for this one specific problem).
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby RichardT » Sat Sep 26, 2020 1:07 pm

All good questions - but my answer is : you have to learn by doing. If you’re not sure what approach to try, try each of them and choose the one that works best. I don’t think there’s any way to shortcut this process.

Books can help enormously by telling what options you have, and you can develop the skills that will tell you a) what needs doing to your mix and b) what are the best options for fixing it.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby Sam Spoons » Sat Sep 26, 2020 1:30 pm

Just to mitigate slightly the comments above, the fact that you can tell that, in your opinion, it doesn't sound 'right' means you are already part way down this road.

WRT compression and the size of your waveforms, the latter doesn't matter, just turn it up.

WRT making the mix sound worse just to be able to use compression? Don't! Just make the mix as good as you can without master buss compression (or any other processing) then stick it on soundcloud or similar (as a private track) and post a link onto here.*

BTW, how are you creating your tracks/what midi recording software are you using?

* the forum doesn't host tracks or images so you need to host them elsewhere and post links on here. The 'img' button above will display a remote hosted image as a pic in the post if the link is of the correct type.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby James Perrett » Sat Sep 26, 2020 1:38 pm

ulrichburke wrote:I mix so it sounds nice to me as far as it goes. Then I read what you're supposed to do next, unless you've got tons of money for a real recording studio, is to put the .WAV into Audacity and use the compressor in Audacity to mesh the tracks together.

I may sound a bit snobbish here but I'd be wary of any site suggesting you use Audacity for what, in effect, is mastering. I'm not saying you can't do things in Audacity but most people using Audacity are using it because it is free so there are a huge number of inexperienced people posting their thoughts on Audacity and many of those posts will lead you in the wrong direction.

If your mixes sound good to you then they're probably good mixes. If they are just for your own enjoyment ignore the loudness wars and enjoy them. If you want to push the levels up then take a look at some of the articles here at SOS on mastering. Mastering isn't just about pushing the levels up but it is about setting a level appropriate for whatever you are mastering for.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby ulrichburke » Sat Sep 26, 2020 7:42 pm

Dear James.

This might sound nutzo coming from a disabled guy but I want to release my own CD and have the mixes good enough to do that - thing IS, I've not exactly been a Lottery winner in my life, so I can't pay someone else to do the mixing for me. I did ONCE - and they stuck dance beats all over a bunch of New Age pieces. And the pieces, even taking that into consideration - were not good to listen to from their hands.

So I wanted to to do the finishing off myself. And I've been trying out loads of advice from loads of places and discovering it all works - SOMETIMES. When it works, you feel like you've learned something. Then you do a new piece and it doesn't work the second time, and you've no idea why.

So I sorta thought there has to be templates going here. Why? Imagine you've written a piano'n'strings piece and mixed it absolutely perfectly (I wish!) If you changed every note in that piece, surely to the DAW it would just be an 'edit' albeit a rather large one, and therefore the mix should still sound perfect because all you've done is change all the notes. The instruments are the same, same relationship to eachother, everything's the same, just the notes are different. That STILL sounds logical to me. And if it works with that, then surely there must be templates for other kinds of mixes. To be honest, I've SEEN templates for mixes but they tend to be for dance tracks, not for New Age, which is what I write.

In lieu of those, I do sit trying out things for days on end. They just never work. Probably it's because I've misunderstood the problem. or Plugin 1's right but totally negated by Plugin 2 being incorrect and I've not realised that. Or something along those lines. So I read up loads online and it's all contradictory - the Audacity for mastering thing was a YouTube video I saw, that's why I started doing it. I've also seen another video saying you can master with ordinary plugins, completely negated by yet another one who says you have to buy highly expensive plugins by Wave to master.

So I don't know what I'm doing or how to do it because everyone contradicts everybody else. And all the info. SORT of works SOMETIMES. So when none of it's working, like now, I've no idea w hat to do. And everyone's telling me what NOT to do - like 'don't use Audacity for mastering', which is fair enough, but nobody's telling me what I should do instead. So I've just got one less thing I can do and don't know what I CAN/SHOULD do.

And this is where I've been stuck for literally years. I've written thousands of pieces, believe it or not, even sold them sometimes when by a miracle a mix works (doesn't help you learn how to do the next one, like winning the Lottery once doesn't tell you how to do it again!) so I know the pieces must be passable (or some of them!)

So OK. I mustn't use Audacity for mastering, fair enough. If I finish off this current piece as well as I can - I've been fighting the thing for 2 days - can I put it up for you to tell me what I SHOULD do to it next? Maybe I'll actually learn something then! (First time for everything....!)

Yours hopefully

Chris.

P.S. It's New Age written entirely from scratch in notation, not using loops in Ableton Live. I don't do loops!
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby RichardT » Sat Sep 26, 2020 8:30 pm

So I wanted to to do the finishing off myself. And I've been trying out loads of advice from loads of places and discovering it all works - SOMETIMES. When it works, you feel like you've learned something. Then you do a new piece and it doesn't work the second time, and you've no idea why.

I think this is a very common experience!

In lieu of those, I do sit trying out things for days on end. They just never work. Probably it's because I've misunderstood the problem. or Plugin 1's right but totally negated by Plugin 2 being incorrect and I've not realised that. Or something along those lines. So I read up loads online and it's all contradictory - the Audacity for mastering thing was a YouTube video I saw, that's why I started doing it. I've also seen another video saying you can master with ordinary plugins, completely negated by yet another one who says you have to buy highly expensive plugins by Wave to master.

So I don't know what I'm doing or how to do it because everyone contradicts everybody else. And all the info. SORT of works SOMETIMES. So when none of it's working, like now, I've no idea w hat to do. And everyone's telling me what NOT to do - like 'don't use Audacity for mastering', which is fair enough, but nobody's telling me what I should do instead. So I've just got one less thing I can do and don't know what I CAN/SHOULD do.

Yes, there’s a lot of information out there, and a lot of it’s contradictory. Do you use a DAW or do you use a notation package? If it’s a notation package, can you use plugins in it?
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby ulrichburke » Sat Sep 26, 2020 9:19 pm

Dear Richard T.

It's Quick Score Elite Level 2, far better than things like Musescore. It's really designed for multitimbral VSTs, the idea being each VST sits on a top track - stave - and has 15 sub-staves for all of its sounds, so think Sampletank, or the Korg Legacy Collection or similar. You can have one M1 on a top stave and 8 sub-staves, each with a separate M1 sound or combi on. That way you get 127 staves. If the VSTs aren't multitimbral, of course you only get 8.

You can have 4 plug-ins per stave. So for example, EQ, Reverb, Compression and something else! It DOES do SENDS but I've always hit this prob. with sends - they only work if all the plug-ins use CC changes the same way. And they do NOT! I've got some that don't accept any CC changes at all (but have lovely sounds so I use EQ to tame 'em and velocity - if they've got that - in place of volume. Sometimes they don't even have velocity which makes them virtually unusable.) But you can have one plug-in that's got volume control with Average Hearing Level set at about 60-70, which is fine. And another one which is WAAAY too loud unless the volume level is about 10. Which is stoopid, but the sound's nice so you put up with that. Thing IS - try feeding things with such disparate setting levels into a SEND. I could never make it work so I just chuck the effects on the channels. Which leads me to my next point.

QSE has an incredibly tiny computer footprint. It can have 8 instances of Edirol Orchestral on, all 32 tracks going, 4 effects on each track and the CPU doesn't even wake up much. I had Sonar and that would munch the entire computer with TWO instances of Edirol in it, that's why I dumped Sonar. Couldn't build a PC big enough for it. As long as things accept CC changes, it's got the best automation system out there, Logic included. No more lines and nodes - it does everything with little upright bars. You want a sound curve? Put the start and finish bars in and it draws a perfect curve between them for you. And because the curve's using bars, you can tweak individual bars, or pairs, triples..... to duck whenever you want to, so no need for sidechaining! Why? If it's ducking on the beat, you just draw it in once and copy/paste it the length of the track. Or of course if it's ducking anywhere else. And it uses those little bars for EVERYTHING CC change wise. Thing IS - not everything comes WITH CC Changes and I've never known how to control the stuff that doesn't have any. I just use Bluecat Gain as a plug-in and that's got CC changes, but it DOES take up a plug-in space of course.

I can 'import' waves via my Cakewalk SF2 player but I don't do loops, I write everything entirely by mouse and notation. My sounds are mainly freebies because I don't know which package to go for. I've got 50 gigs of Omnisphere 1 on a backup drive because I never got the hang of it. It was a HEWGE and very expensive disappointment to me, thought I'd find lovely instruments but I got African villages, burning pianos (for real!) guitars sounding like aeroplane propellors.... Who invented that thing, Harrison Birtwistle!?! It's more of a waste of space than I am! Anyway.

QSE can read most XP2 plugins. I stick to presets because I've watched a bazillion videos on programming synths, they get gorgeous sounds, I get dog farts and lovesick seals. So I use loads of soundfonts, freebie downloads (there's some great ones out there) and do the best I can with them.

It's just I can hear a lot of my tracks - mixwise, not calling myself Mozart here! - COULD be contenders if only I knew what I was doing wrong! Please - yes I DO have Cubase and Sonar still - somewhere, not installed - but Cubase is a flippin' nightmare, Sonar munches computers for snacks, can we stick to QSE for the moment? Mainly because I actually UNDERSTAND it fully so I know what I'm doing with the software, just not with the plug-ins!

Yours respectfully - ask what you want -

Chris.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby blinddrew » Sat Sep 26, 2020 9:28 pm

The only thing that is consistent is the process of listen > analyse > is it ok? > If yes, move on, if no, make a correction > listen (toggling your last change on and off to make sure you know it's actually better) > analyse > is it ok? > If yes, move on, if no, make a correction > repeat...

Templates can be useful starting places, but can rarely stand up in the face of reality.
Take a simple recording of a piano. In a perfect world, you'd have a perfect piano, in a perfect room, with perfectly positioned microphones, with a perfect response etc etc etc.
But a real piano will have its own resonances, the room will have resonances, the microphone positioning may be compromised, the microphones themselves have compromises...
Which means that you could take an identical piece of music, transpose it a tone or two, and all the resonances of the piano, the room and everything else change - so whatever settings worked initially will no longer work.

Hence we start with our best assumptions based on the material and each time work from there. The more experience we gain* the better our assumptions become and the quicker we can analyse any problems and what their possible solutions are.

I know you don't have a lot of faith in books, but there is such a lot to take in with audio engineering it can really help to have a manual to refer back to as you go. For me, that's Mike Senior's books. And he doesn't try and sell you anything.** :)

* I assume, I don't have much... ;)
** Though he does recommend sorting some acoustic treatment for your room - but headphones are your friend here anyway.
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Re: Help with using Compression (etc!) to create bigger-sounding waveforms?

Postby James Perrett » Sat Sep 26, 2020 9:38 pm

ulrichburke wrote:So I sorta thought there has to be templates going here.

There really are no templates that will apply to your work unless you've created some yourself. Your playing style, composition style and preferences are going to be completely different to everyone else's so what works for one person almost certainly won't work for someone else.

I start from scratch with just about every mix that I do. My CD mastering template has a metering plug-in and a bypassed limiter on the main bus, a few preference tweaks and a marker at exactly 2 seconds - that's it. The limiter is there because I know I'll probably need it at some point but I don't want to use it while I'm working on the initial sounds. Everything else is decided after I've heard the material.

Possibly the most productive thing you could do is to post an example of your work and let us have a listen to it - we can almost certainly suggest better ways to achieve the sound you are looking for if we know where you are starting from.
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