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Critique my mix

Postby AJScott755 » Tue Jan 07, 2020 5:58 pm

Hey guys

Newbie here to the world of recording and mixing. This is my first post, I created this account just to start getting feedback on my first ever proper mix (Outside of just recording ideas to save them)

The song I recorded is a cover of Incubus "In The Company of Wolves" Sadly I have no vocals at the moment so I just recorded/mixed the instruments to my absolute best ability. I'd really appreciate some constructive feedback

I can hear the mix certainly isn't perfect, I struggle with really making the drums stand out and not just sound like they're sitting in the back of the mix clearly being sampled drums.

Any feedback from you guys is really appreciated, I want to do my best to really make this pop (Especially the drums the more I listen to know the less I like how they sound!)

https://soundcloud.com/ajscotty/in-the- ... v4/s-7iVwh

Cheers all
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby CS70 » Wed Jan 08, 2020 1:58 pm

How you mix stuff depends really on the sound in your head. There's are few rights or wrong and aren't on the kind that you may expect (they are stuff like unwanted digital distortion, mono incompatibility, frequency issues which prevent portability etc). All the rest is artistic choice. People can say they like it or not, but it's only opinions.

That said, you are already on a very good path because you seem to have an idea of the difference between the mix you hear in your head and the mix you hear with your ears.

I struggle with really making the drums stand out and not just sound like they're sitting in the back of the mix clearly being sampled drums.

So first thing is fixing that! :D
I'not at the studio and I've listened on earbuds so definitely no particularly informed opinion.

For your drums, it's easy: first and foremost, the guitar is way too high in level. Actually, everything else is.

Might that because your drum bus is hitting the top of the scale (while the other instruments, you can raise the fader or channel gain more)?

If you're using a software drum, for some crazy reason, it's mostly the case that the tracks are set to peak very near 0dbFS - it's like turning on the gain way too much.

If that's the case - you're simply listening to your mix at too low level. Pump up the volume!

Have a read at https://www.theaudioblog.org/post/pump- ... t-the-gain to see what I mean.

The gist is that you need to bring all faders (or channel gain) down so that everything averages around -18dbFS (give or take) and raise the volume knob so that you can hear things the level you want to hear them.

Your software drum channel, being already a "mixed" track (i.e. containing a mix the several pieces of drum kit, which would normally go into a "drum bus") can well average louder, say around -12 or so.

Then you start adjusting the faders to mix. Usually you want to have the faders in the -6 / +6dbFS range since that's where they are most sensitive, so you can use the channel gains with the faders at unity to get the average levels in the ballpark.
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby AJScott755 » Wed Jan 08, 2020 4:35 pm

CS70 wrote:How you mix stuff depends really on the sound in your head. There's are few rights or wrong and aren't on the kind that you may expect (they are stuff like unwanted digital distortion, mono incompatibility, frequency issues which prevent portability etc). All the rest is artistic choice. People can say they like it or not, but it's only opinions.

That said, you are already on a very good path because you seem to have an idea of the difference between the mix you hear in your head and the mix you hear with your ears.

I struggle with really making the drums stand out and not just sound like they're sitting in the back of the mix clearly being sampled drums.

So first thing is fixing that! :D
I'not at the studio and I've listened on earbuds so definitely no particularly informed opinion.

For your drums, it's easy: first and foremost, the guitar is way too high in level. Actually, everything else is.

Might that because your drum bus is hitting the top of the scale (while the other instruments, you can raise the fader or channel gain more)?

If you're using a software drum, for some crazy reason, it's mostly the case that the tracks are set to peak very near 0dbFS - it's like turning on the gain way too much.

If that's the case - you're simply listening to your mix at too low level. Pump up the volume!

Have a read at https://www.theaudioblog.org/post/pump- ... t-the-gain to see what I mean.

The gist is that you need to bring all faders (or channel gain) down so that everything averages around -18dbFS (give or take) and raise the volume knob so that you can hear things the level you want to hear them.

Your software drum channel, being already a "mixed" track (i.e. containing a mix the several pieces of drum kit, which would normally go into a "drum bus") can well average louder, say around -12 or so.

Then you start adjusting the faders to mix. Usually you want to have the faders in the -6 / +6dbFS range since that's where they are most sensitive, so you can use the channel gains with the faders at unity to get the average levels in the ballpark.

Hi CS70, thanks for your input. It sounds like I have a fundamental misunderstanding to some key recording elements especially around volume/gain. I read that link you posted and I have some questions.

Now I have learnt everything self taught so far, no audio production lessons at school etc just YouTube and trial and error, so please bare that in mind.

I get the overall gist of recording low (-18dBFS) and during mixing raising the playback volume on my interface to make it listenable and then I'm assuming during the mastering stage bringing everything up to a reasonable level.
Let's take the 6-string guitars for example in my mix, there's an acoustic and an electric. I assumed it would be wise to capture as much information as possible and then turn it down in the DAW, so the gain going in was set quite high on both instruments but not too high so it peaked. Is this not the correct way to do this? What would be the correct process?

Also, regarding the -18dBFS. How should this be achieved? Is it best to record a signal coming in at this level, or should I use the same practice where I have the input gain at a reasonable level (but not clipping) and then set the individual tracks in my DAW to -18?

Apologies if there's some errors in the way I've described things, I've really jumped in at the deep end

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Re: Critique my mix

Postby Rich Hanson » Wed Jan 08, 2020 5:04 pm

Record the signal at -18, using the gain on your interface to achieve that level.

But also, don't consider -18 as 'quiet', it isn't. At 24 bit, it's still giving you way more signal to noise than you actually need, and gives you 18dB of headroom for transients, which is pretty much in the same ball park as the old professional analogue systems.

With 24 bit systems, there is absolutely no need to try to peak your signal as close to 0dBFS. Arguably there was never really a pressing need to do that with 16 bit either.
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby AJScott755 » Wed Jan 08, 2020 5:36 pm

Rich Hanson wrote:Record the signal at -18, using the gain on your interface to achieve that level.

But also, don't consider -18 as 'quiet', it isn't. At 24 bit, it's still giving you way more signal to noise than you actually need, and gives you 18dB of headroom for transients, which is pretty much in the same ball park as the old professional analogue systems.

With 24 bit systems, there is absolutely no need to try to peak your signal as close to 0dBFS. Arguably there was never really a pressing need to do that with 16 bit either.

Thanks

Question regarding the drums....I'm using ToonTracks "EZDrummer 2" so I don't have the same control over the volume. What would be the best way to achieve that -12dB or -18dB level?

EZDrummer 2 has it's own mixer in the plugin GUI that controls the sends to the individual channels. For example, say in my DAW Track 1 contains the MIDI information and the EZDrummer 2 plugin, the kick is routed to channel 2, the snare to channel 3 so on and so on...
Is it best to use the EZDrummer built in mixer on track 1 to control the volume going to track 2, 3 etc or leave them all default (They maybe have about -5dB headroom off the top of my head) or use the track volume sliders to achieve this?

Or do they all do the exact same thing and it doesn't matter?
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby CS70 » Wed Jan 08, 2020 6:53 pm

AJScott755 wrote:Hi CS70, thanks for your input. It sounds like I have a fundamental misunderstanding to some key recording elements especially around volume/gain. I read that link you posted and I have some questions.

Now I have learnt everything self taught so far, no audio production lessons at school etc just YouTube and trial and error, so please bare that in mind.


No worries, that's exactly why SOS forums are so useful :)

I get the overall gist of recording low (-18dBFS) and during mixing raising the playback volume on my interface to make it listenable and then I'm assuming during the mastering stage bringing everything up to a reasonable level.

Indeed. The whole point of mastering is primarily to remove the working headroom. If u look at the other posts on the blog, you find a couple on the subject as it's another common misunderstanding.

Let's take the 6-string guitars for example in my mix, there's an acoustic and an electric. I assumed it would be wise to capture as much information as possible and then turn it down in the DAW, so the gain going in was set quite high on both instruments but not too high so it peaked. Is this not the correct way to do this? What would be the correct process?

What is important to understand is what you mean by "as much information as possible", which is not what you probably intuitively do. The information you capture depends on the properties of the recording medium, not the source (and the input gain is part of the source).

You can never have more or less information (potentially) that your recording medium allows. Specifically, it depends from the ability of the medium to retain the detail present in the analog signal so to reconstruct it later - from the quietest to the loudest and with as much good resolution as possible in between - called "dynamic range".

The larger the dynamic range, the better. If you had 2 bits, you could record 4 values (say "low", "medium-low", "medium-high" and "high". Wouldn't be much of a recording!

With 24 bits, however, you have an enormous dynamic range: you can represent 16777216 discrete levels (that's almost seventeen million!). So if you record a single signal averaging "middle of the full scale" you have a really huge amount of possible levels up and down from that middle. Gigantic. Pairing that with an adequate sampling frequency (say 44.1 or 96 KHz), you can potentially capture an enormous amount of information.

Now keep in mind that all signal paths will have some noise. That noise appears as random non-zero levels at the very bottom of the scale, it's called "noise floor" and will be around, say, levels 0-10 or 0-100 or whatever (depending on how good your signal path is).. But with 24 bit, when you are "in the middle" (averaging say around the 8 million mark), that becomes irrelevant ! 10 or 100 compared to 8 millions is insignificant. Whereas, if you had a recording medium with lower dynamic range (say 4 bits, which gives you a range of only 0-16) the noise (which sits at the 0-10 range) would be huge with respect to the signal! So you would need to try to record as "high" as possible in the scale. With lesser quality mediums than digital - say old studio tape - the dynamic range was much lower than 24 bits, so it paid off to stay as "hot" as possible (there were also other reasons, but from a information point of view, that was it).

No need with digital recordings: the moment you decide to record at 24 bits, you have chosen a medium which can potentially capture all the information there is to capture - your only problem is potential overloads (hence, averaging in the middle).

Staying "in the middle" also helps due to the technology involved: due to the way they are physically built, the front end of the A/D converter will be more comfortable with lower levels, and common A/D converters often produce a trifle more quantization errors at the limits of the scale, and they are a little better in the middle (this is an overgeneralization, but better safe than sorry: bit like avoiding running a car engine near its rev limit if you can).

Also, regarding the -18dBFS. How should this be achieved? Is it best to record a signal coming in at this level, or should I use the same practice where I have the input gain at a reasonable level (but not clipping) and then set the individual tracks in my DAW to -18?

You simply raise the preamp gain until the point where, when you play the instrument or sing, the DAW meter shows around -18dBFs (middle scale) in the DAW. Simple as that.

If you look at the post in the blog https://www.theaudioblog.org/post/how-d ... recordings you'll get more details.

When it comes to EZDrummer (I use it all the time myself for demos and inspiration for new songs :) ) - it depends a bit on your DAW I guess, but what I do is simply to use the DAW channel gain, lowering it down so that when the fader is at unity, the channel averages -12, -10 dbFS.

The reason for -12 is because a drum kit (which EZDrummer simulates) is actually a composite of many individual signals.. if you recorded the individual mics at -18dBFS average and summed them up into a bus (how you would do with "real" drums), the average bus level would be in the -12 ballpark.

Doing that will give you a "natural" balance (well, natural if you've ever miked a drum kit :))

You can also lower the individual mic faders in the EZDrummer mixer, but it's just more cumbersome. As you do for a "real" drum kit, you find a balance of the individual mics and then you send to a drum bus and then you control the drums level with the single bus fader. But from a signal point of view, so long you stay in the -12 or -10 average, it makes no difference.
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby Martin Walker » Wed Jan 08, 2020 10:45 pm

Hi AJScott755, and welcome to the SOS Forums! 8-)

Further to the good advice you've already received, may I suggest you try the pink noise mixing technique to set up your basic levels - I start every one of my mixes using this nowadays, since it lets you quickly establish a reasonable balance between all the different elements of your mix.

An excellent description can be found here in this SOS feature by Eddie Bazil (who also posts a lot here as 'Zukan'):

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... -reference

I suspect this may help - fingers crossed anyway!


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Re: Critique my mix

Postby AJScott755 » Thu Jan 09, 2020 10:24 am

Thanks everyone for your input it's really appreciated. CS70 you've really helped me understand in a few posts a lot more than hours of video watching. I think my skewed view of recording has probably come from the fact I am mostly a guitarist, so I have spent a lot of time researching how to mix guitars etc and have likely bypassed some key elements.

Thanks for the articles, I don't know how in Reaper I would change the range of the waveform displays but I'll work it out, The pink noise method sounds interesting I'm definitely going to give that a go, thanks for the tips.

Maybe my final question for this post before I dive back into Reaper...Is it worth starting from my mix from scratch? In other words, using the audio files that I've already recorded can I salvage the mix by effectively turning everything down and re-mixing, or just starting again and re recording?

Thanks again
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby CS70 » Thu Jan 09, 2020 3:23 pm

AJScott755 wrote:Thanks for the articles, I don't know how in Reaper I would change the range of the waveform displays but I'll work it out

I think Drew (blinddrew) or James Perret here figured out how to do it in Reaper and described it in a thread not long ago.. I don't use Reaper so don't remember alas.

Maybe my final question for this post before I dive back into Reaper...Is it worth starting from my mix from scratch? In other words, using the audio files that I've already recorded can I salvage the mix by effectively turning everything down and re-mixing, or just starting again and re recording?

If you like the performance your recorded, absolutely yes: another advantage of the huge dynamic range given by 24 bits is that you can change the gain post-factum quite a lot without degrading the quality. If your signal was hot in recording (but not suffering from digital distortion) it may be slightly less good that it could have been... but it's a rather minimal issue if you like your performance.

So lower the channel gain of the guitars, bass in the DAW, increase the listening volume and mix at will.

And keep in mind that the performance is really like 90% of it. In most circumstances, a great performance with a slightly off recording path totally beats a mediocre one with everything perfect from a gear and setup point of view. It shines trhu.

I myself have made guitar recordings using questionable setups, which came out great.. while just two days ago I was trying to record a small nylon guitar piece I've written with miserable results. The recording sucked even if I was in a top acoustic space and using a very good mic with everything setup correctly... reason being, it's a tricky piece and I simply have not rehearsed it enough yet, hence my playing is not yet good enough to be worth recording (damn!) :D

Of course, the best is a great performance in a great recording space with a great signal path :)
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby AJScott755 » Thu Jan 09, 2020 5:48 pm

CS70 wrote:
AJScott755 wrote:
Maybe my final question for this post before I dive back into Reaper...Is it worth starting from my mix from scratch? In other words, using the audio files that I've already recorded can I salvage the mix by effectively turning everything down and re-mixing, or just starting again and re recording?

If you like the performance your recorded, absolutely yes: another advantage of the huge dynamic range given by 24 bits is that you can change the gain post-factum quite a lot without degrading the quality. If your signal was hot in recording (but not suffering from digital distortion) it may be slightly less good that it could have been... but it's a rather minimal issue if you like your performance.

So lower the channel gain of the guitars, bass in the DAW, increase the listening volume and mix at will.

And keep in mind that the performance is really like 90% of it. In most circumstances, a great performance with a slightly off recording path totally beats a mediocre one with everything perfect from a gear and setup point of view. It shines trhu.

I myself have made guitar recordings using questionable setups, which came out great.. while just two days ago I was trying to record a small nylon guitar piece I've written with miserable results. The recording sucked even if I was in a top acoustic space and using a very good mic with everything setup correctly... reason being, it's a tricky piece and I simply have not rehearsed it enough yet, hence my playing is not yet good enough to be worth recording (damn!) :D

Of course, the best is a great performance in a great recording space with a great signal path :)

Thanks man, I'll re mix using the existing files because I think the performance was good enough. There were some parts of the guitar recordings that I should have done slightly differently but nothing the average listener would pick up I don't think, this is more an exercise in mixing anyway.

I'll post the results, likely in a few days. Thanks again!
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby The Bunk » Thu Jan 09, 2020 6:30 pm

AJScott755 wrote:
Question regarding the drums....I'm using ToonTracks "EZDrummer 2" so I don't have the same control over the volume. What would be the best way to achieve that -12dB or -18dB level?



I may be being dumb here...it has happened before after all...but I'm not sure I've quite got your drum set up clear in my head. I use EZ Drummer 1 and there are ways of dropping the volume / gain, some of which admittedly can be pernickety, but I'd imagine EZD2 should be at least similar if not easier. But I generally separate kick, snare, hats etc manually onto individual tracks (each with EZD as a plug-in on them, which yes can be CPU intensive but there are ways round that) and tweak levels either using faders or (the pernickety way) dropping the level on each individual "hit" in each bar as it were.

Plus as others have suggested if you're happy with the performance (which I've heard and sounds good), yep keep them and start the mixing again, completely afresh. Hope I haven't completely missed the original point!
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby blinddrew » Thu Jan 09, 2020 9:16 pm

CS70 wrote:
AJScott755 wrote:Thanks for the articles, I don't know how in Reaper I would change the range of the waveform displays but I'll work it out

I think Drew (blinddrew) or James Perret here figured out how to do it in Reaper and described it in a thread not long ago.. I don't use Reaper so don't remember alas.
Think there's potentially two slightly different things being talked about here.
To make the waveform appear larger in the track bar it's just Shift+UP.

The thing that James found (and I subsequently copied) was to extend the default level of the meters so that they go from -96 to +12 rather than -62 to 12. Which just makes your levels look proportionally larger.
Options > Preferences > Appearance > Track Control Patterns > then change the minimum value in the VU meters section.
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby James Perrett » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:07 pm

Another thing worth trying is to change the waveform view from a linear display to a logarithmic display which will show quieter sounds more clearly. To change this setting go to the actions menu, click on actions list and then search for Peaks:scale peaks by square root (half of range is 12dB rather than 6dB).
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby AJScott755 » Sun Jan 12, 2020 10:36 pm

HI guys

So here's my second attempt taking into account everyones feedback. The files haven't been re-recorded but I do think there's a dramatic improvement. While the drums certainly don't sound like a professional record theres a big change from the first recording. I'd appreciate a second round of feedback?

https://soundcloud.com/ajscotty/in-the- ... v5/s-pt4hh

Thanks again
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby Martin Walker » Sun Jan 12, 2020 11:28 pm

blinddrew wrote:The thing that James found (and I subsequently copied) was to extend the default level of the meters so that they go from -96 to +12 rather than -62 to 12. Which just makes your levels look proportionally larger.
Options > Preferences > Appearance > Track Control Patterns > then change the minimum value in the VU meters section.

Thanks for that Drew - I've just hanged my setting to -96 and the Reaper meters convey a lot more useful information! :thumbup:


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Re: Critique my mix

Postby AJScott755 » Tue Jan 14, 2020 9:25 pm

AJScott755 wrote:HI guys

So here's my second attempt taking into account everyones feedback. The files haven't been re-recorded but I do think there's a dramatic improvement. While the drums certainly don't sound like a professional record theres a big change from the first recording. I'd appreciate a second round of feedback?

https://soundcloud.com/ajscotty/in-the- ... v5/s-pt4hh

Thanks again

Bump.

Any chance of feedback on version 2 of the mix?
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby The Elf » Tue Jan 14, 2020 9:36 pm

Reduce the kick by 3 dB. I also feel that the guitar is overpoweringly loud throughout. When you get a vocal in I suspect you'll feel the same way too.
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby DC-Choppah » Wed Jan 15, 2020 1:28 am

I like the stereo guitars. The feel of the rythm guitars is nice and makes me want to listen.

Dude, the drum fills are painful. Makes me want to turn it off. Hearing a computer play the drums is bad, hearing a computer play the drums badly is noise.

Sorry man. Performance is everything. Make some music first, then worry about mixing it.
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby Watchmaker » Wed Jan 15, 2020 2:08 am

Considering this is your first foray, I think you're off to a good start. As you're learning, mixing is not so easy as it seems :) I agree with the substance of the prior comments to an extent. It starts with the recorded sound, and then becomes a game of balancing elements. One of the hard parts is learning what those elements are, how they interact - as well as learning the tools you have to modify behaviors according to your intent. To be a performer and engineer takes a huge amount of knowledge and experience.

EZ Drummer will get you some of the way towards a drum sound but is probably better viewed as a songwriting aid rather than a source of killer sounds. I use SD3 and - being a retired drummer with 15 years touring under my belt - SD3 can be utterly convincing when programmed correctly. I do take the time to customize a kit and use the program's editing facilities to edit midi parameters, etc. I remove ALL Toontrack processing because it's overblown and I have better sounding tools in my DAW. So learning your options and selecting based on need is another part of the skillset. I'm a shameless acolyte of UAD plugins, but that's above your pay grade for now.

Many people here, me included, recommend Mike Senior's "Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio" as an excellent primer and reference book which you can find easily enough. Mike Senior is a contributing writer for SOS and really goes to serious lengths to help us mere mortals in our quest for a better understanding. Thanks Mike! *edit* There are a great many excellent helpful people associated with this endeavor who contribute copiously and generously. An oasis on the web. Thanks e'rybody *end*

I often go back and forth with mixing and writing AND honing my performances in an iterative process so that it's very hard to say "I wrote this, I performed this, I edited this, I mixed this..." in a linear way. Generally though, once I get to a level of clarity I'm comfortable with, then I'll go back and actually lay down tracks with focused intent and try to knock the fu**er out of the park. Hired (bribed/cajoled/begged for) help in front of or behind the desk is always welcome and generally ups the fun level significantly.

There are a million ways to do this and the absolute best way to learn some of them is to do exactly what you're doing. If you want to record, find people to record, find people who already record and ask for help. Be comfortable being vulnerable - and be at peace discarding or ignoring negativity. Stay focused on what's important to you and have fun!

The great thing about making mistakes is you get to learn from them!
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Re: Critique my mix

Postby AJScott755 » Wed Jan 15, 2020 12:42 pm

DC-Choppah wrote:I like the stereo guitars. The feel of the rythm guitars is nice and makes me want to listen.

Dude, the drum fills are painful. Makes me want to turn it off. Hearing a computer play the drums is bad, hearing a computer play the drums badly is noise.

Sorry man. Performance is everything. Make some music first, then worry about mixing it.

I think you could be a bit more specific? What's wrong with the drum fills? I believe they're almost identical to the original song.

I'm sure you can understand it's not practical for everyone to record drums as they wish.
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