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When should I look to apply processing to a sound

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When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby Scouser » Mon Jan 04, 2021 3:58 pm

I have been making music for a number of years and yet still I find myself reaching for plugins as a kind of habit. Which makes me feel I haven't learnt anything in all these years.

I have also watched and read many tutorials on all the usual suspects, EQ, Compression, limiting, reverbs etc, but i find the examples are often so subtle, that I struggle to hear the difference.

Is there any mileage in taking an old school approach, ie when it was more about being a balance engineer and not having all the distractions, that one may have today ?

Is it worth me just experimenting and not using any effects and seeing where that takes me ?
Perhaps that will more clearly illustrate, when sounds need a little help. Although I'm still not sure what help I will be able to give the given sounds.

I am only looking to record simple arrangements, sometimes just acoustic guitar and vocals, other times, subtle acoustic drums, ac guitar, bass and vocal. But I often find something is lacking, sonically. It's not that I can't play guitar or sing, or that I have poor sounding instruments or bad sounding room and gear.

A couple of examples

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53xsNXrEts0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hvQ3v__q5o
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wF2boD2qEwQ
And one with some backing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA-rgE27NUM this is when things start getting worse, real bass but programmed drums always let me down !
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Jan 04, 2021 4:07 pm

Scouser wrote:...i find the examples are often so subtle, that I struggle to hear the difference.

For some the differences will be much too subtle... in which case you're simply not genetically shaped to be a sound engineer... :D but for most the reason will actually be that the monitoring speakers and environment are not good enough to hear the differences. In the right environment you don't need 'golden ears' to hear the differences.

Is it worth me just experimenting and not using any effects and seeing where that takes me ? Perhaps that will more clearly illustrate, when sounds need a little help.

The method should be to listen, analyse, and decide what -- if anything -- needs processing. And if it does need processing, what kind of process and to what degree... But those first two stages are the most critical and they only come with practice and experience.
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby The Elf » Mon Jan 04, 2021 6:42 pm

Find a song you like that is similar to yours and use this as your reference. Compare your mix and your reference. What is different? Make processing decisions to narrow those differences.

Do this over and over again.

Eventually you will begin to make these decisions without needing a reference, but it will likely take months, if not years, to reach that place.
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby RichardT » Mon Jan 04, 2021 6:54 pm

I watched a couple of your videos and I don't think you need to worry - the sound is fine!
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby CS70 » Mon Jan 04, 2021 7:13 pm

Scouser wrote:Is there any mileage in taking an old school approach, ie when it was more about being a balance engineer and not having all the distractions, that one may have today ?

Is it worth me just experimenting and not using any effects and seeing where that takes me ?
Perhaps that will more clearly illustrate, when sounds need a little help. Although I'm still not sure what help I will be able to give the given sounds.

To me that's a bit of a misconception.. sure there's no problem in experimenting, but it's a bit like saying that since you can't use an oven, you're not going to bake bread. It's far better to learn to use the oven!

My $.10 is that the reason for problems like yours is that people takes things the "wrong" way. It's like going to a tool shop, seeing a drill and then think "Hm.. what can I use it on"?
The "right" way is to say: "I want to build a shed" and then get the tools for the job.

In audio terms, that means simply thinking of both balance and effects as mere tools to reach your goal.

Which is always: how do you want that track to feel to the listeners? Excited? Tapping their toes? Suicidal? Depressed? An alternative is to think of what mood you track will suit best - is it something you would reach for when you want to have fun? When you're gloomy? When you need a lift up?

The only thing you _don't_ want them to be is bored :lol:

In short: balance and effects are simply a tool to entice the emotion you want. That's it.

So at any given moment you're never asking yourself "should I try this compressor" but rather: "can I get the feel more in the direction I want? Is something still missing?".

For my own I think of balance/processing in two distinct phases: a first phase to make everything sound as it should - as a good basis for balancing; a second phase to get things to the next level in terms of emotional payback.

The two phases share some of the same tools but they are two distinct, separate stages to me.. you don't need to keep them temporally separated, but every time you make a move, it needs be the answer to "this needs fixing" or "this makes things more ...whatever emotional goal you have..". Usually you can't do much of the second stage without the first, so if you look at a good engineer at work they'll be always intertwined, but he/she always knows if a move's about fixing or getting things towards the emotional goal.

So no: no need to give up effects. Balance is just the first of the effects you use. Just give yourself incremental "emotional" goals and find the tools to achieve them, and in minutes you will have incredibly brilliant mixes (or more brilliant, as it were!)
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby desmond » Mon Jan 04, 2021 7:29 pm

Great post! :clap:
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby Martin Walker » Mon Jan 04, 2021 10:37 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:For some the differences will be much too subtle... in which case you're simply not genetically shaped to be a sound engineer... :D but for most the reason will actually be that the monitoring speakers and environment are not good enough to hear the differences. In the right environment you don't need 'golden ears' to hear the differences.

+1 to this.

I can remember a couple of years ago that when I changed levels in one of my mixes, I generally did so 2dB at a time i.e. +2db if something seemed too quiet, or -2dB if it seemed too loud, but since I incorporated Sonarworks into my tiny studio I now find myself tweaking in 1dB steps, and sometimes 0.5dB steps.

The better your playback system/acoustic treatment, the smaller the audible change you will register.

To give you an idea, many mastering EQs have 0.5dB stepped controls for repeatable matching, since at the mastering stage any changes may often be quite small.


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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby James Perrett » Mon Jan 04, 2021 10:53 pm

I'd totally agree with Martin here - good monitors in a good room will tell you far more than you might expect. Half a dB eq change in the ear's most sensitive range will be fairly audible with good monitoring. Good monitors also allow you to hear the processing used on your reference tracks more clearly - something that will be obscured by lesser monitors.
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby The Elf » Mon Jan 04, 2021 10:58 pm

...and I will confirm that good headphones will achieve the same.
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby Martin Walker » Tue Jan 05, 2021 12:04 am

The Elf wrote:...and I will confirm that good headphones will achieve the same.

As will I - it's rare that I don't have several hours tweaking my mixes under headphones after getting a basic mix on my monitor loudspeakers:

a) because under headphones you totally bypass the acoustics of your room.

b) because under headphones you can invariably hear tinier details that might be initially missed through loudspeakers, but which once heard under headphones become more obvious at all times).

c) because it's important to make sure your mixes work well on headphones/earbuds, because so many people listen using them (I might make slight changes in pan positions and EQ for instance while listening under headphones, and these changes have invariably improved the mix when I switch back to loudspeaker playback).


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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby Zukan » Tue Jan 05, 2021 8:40 am

Just because we have the tools doesn't mean you need to use them. You use what is there for a specific aim.

Nowadays, mixing dry with a modicum of effects seems to be quite desirable. I have written an article on the subject of intimate productions and in my research I found a number of tracks that were almost bone dry of effects.

Sometimes, I go back and listen to my earlier mixes that were quite minimalistic in terms of effects use as it was a whole different can when mixing solely with hardware, and I find myself 'liking' my earlier mixes more than the gazillion plugin butchered mixes I throw out today.

I still love to experiment with sound design concepts and todays plugins offer huge flexibility and scope in that department.
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby Scouser » Wed Jan 06, 2021 9:53 am

Zukan wrote:Just because we have the tools doesn't mean you need to use them. You use what is there for a specific aim.

Nowadays, mixing dry with a modicum of effects seems to be quite desirable. I have written an article on the subject of intimate productions and in my research I found a number of tracks that were almost bone dry of effects..

Where can I read your article Zukan ?
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Jan 06, 2021 1:00 pm

Scouser wrote:
Zukan wrote:Just because we have the tools doesn't mean you need to use them. You use what is there for a specific aim.

Nowadays, mixing dry with a modicum of effects seems to be quite desirable. I have written an article on the subject of intimate productions and in my research I found a number of tracks that were almost bone dry of effects..

Where can I read your article Zukan ?

Here you go Scouser!

https://samplecraze.com/2020/11/18/inti ... echniques/

Zukan also currently as a sale on too 8-) https://samplecraze.com/ebooks/


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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby MegaBacher » Mon Jan 11, 2021 8:57 pm

Mix preparation is everything to me. I spend more time taking a finalized recorded project and exporting each track with proper pre-emptive processing, then creating a new project to re-import everything and start the mix. My mix prep plugin applications will be things such as phase alignment tool usage on the drum tracks, high-passes on all upper-register instruments (up to 150hz in many cases), channel strip processing, simple non-colouring EQ, simple dynamics processing, etc.

It takes me as long to do that as the mix. But once I've started mixing on the new project, I'm not having to clean up anything. I spend the up-front time just making panning and volume choices. Then I break out the parallel processing. At this stage everything is set in it's stereo pan image, and I start trying to get creative with all the things people think effects really are. Then I make another top-down pass through the tracks to regain a strong ear for the panning and the volume. Then I bounce a test mix and live with it for a week before attempting to finish the mix.
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Re: When should I look to apply processing to a sound

Postby CS70 » Mon Jan 11, 2021 10:12 pm

MegaBacher wrote:Mix preparation is everything to me. .

Time to hire an assistant! :D

But yeah, when one has everything set up right, mixing is very, very fast.
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