This is my 1,000th post here. So I’ll try and make it a good one. This is also a subject I have some experience in. There’s a lot of good info here already.
This will be a very long post, but there’s stuff here for beginners and experts alike. I will do my best to organize it, but mostly it will be a long ramble.
There is a summary near the bottom of the post, for those who want to get some good stuff quickly.
but when I opened my project everything was totally clipping and with a lot of distortion
This is easy to solve. Turn it down!!! Just turn down everything in your sequencer so nothing clips. Are you having trouble hearing? Well, turn up the volume on your interface / speakers. :D - Generally, try to avoid clipping in the sequencer as it leads to difficulties later on in the process. You can always turn up the volume. This is a simple thing that a LOT of composers overlook. I know I used to.
In Kontakt you have a ‘Master Volume’ button, you can use that to turn everything down quickly, as illustrated below.
I was watching some videos on youtube on how EQ, Compressors, etc. work but still I get like any idea how I should put them on my tracks to make them perfect. Or better how to start concerning a sound-design, hybrid track, trailer. A lot of electrical synthesizer stuff, with pulsing bass lines and a lot dynamic drums. All together sound is clipping so I now have that problem to make it sound very dynamic still but also it has to be loud due to “loudness war”.
First of all, ignore the compressors and things like that for now. If you're starting off by fiddling with compressors and EQ, then - if you're not experienced - you're going to run into problems.
A good way to start to get the best balance is to spend more time on LEVELS and ARRANGEMENT. To do this, you also need to have some kind of organization in your sequencer. Having watched a number of very experienced engineers mix, the key is all in the organization. It saves so much time and effort and blood down the road!
A lot of composers try to cram 16 channels (or 64!) into one Kontakt instance. What a lot of composers don’t know is that Kontakt - and your sequencer - generally works better when more instances are open. This is due to the multicore processing that the majority of sequencers have nowadays.
If you are running Kontakt inside your sequencer, as most (but not all) people do these days, you’ll want your sequencer to handle the multicore processing, and turn it off in Kontakt. Depending on what sequencer you use this will be somewhere in a ‘Preferences’ menu. In Kontakt, it is in the Options menu. You want your sequencer to handle the multicore processing and then it can manage multiple Kontakt instances better.
WHY would you do this?
Having multiple instances helps you get organized. You can have one Kontakt multi for high woodwind, low woodwind, melodic percussion, high brass, low brass, etc… (and this will set you up for making stems later).
Also, some people - like me - don’t like to work with templates. If you save these multis now, and then suddenly decide in a project ‘yes, I’m definitely going to use high woodwind’ but not sure exactly which instrument, you can just load your high woodwind multi in Kontakt, and you’re ready to go.
The other benefit to splitting things up, is that you can actually do a little bit of mixing before you start composing. I’ll explain this in a bit.
EXAMPLES of my multis.
A tuned percussion multi (I like to group these all together, as I treat them with the same EQ, and the same reverb, i.e. they are one group of instruments).
I won’t necessarily use ALL of these instruments in a track, but if I decide to choose one of them, it is ready to go, and grouped correctly.
Similarly, with this next multi/instance of Kontakt. It focuses on very heavy low-end percussion. Again, I won’t use ALL of these tracks, but if I do, I’ll have them set up in a similar way so I’m not dealing with problems immediately.
And finally, this last one, it only uses 8 tracks in Kontakt, but I will not add any others to it, as I treat this group of instruments as one ‘plucked’ group.
OK, so now what?
The idea is to have lots of these available to you. Think of them like ‘modules’. The idea is to set up different groups of tracks so that you are well organized later when you are managing a 250 track project…!
There is no correct way to group something. The only way is what works for you. Generally though, you are best sticking to types of instruments, and where they are in the frequency spectrum.
- High Strings, Low Strings, High Brass, Low Brass, Subbass, Low Arpeggiated Synth, High Arpeggiated Synth, Low Pad, High Pad, Solos, Choral Voice, Ethnic Voice, High Percussion, Low Percussion, etc.etc.etc.
the list is endless, the point is, to make something that works for you and that helps you get organized.
The final reason for organization, is that it can help separate the composing and mixing process. You can do some of it on the fly, but at some point, you will need to separate the process to help gain some clarity.
This sure is a lot of work, and you haven’t told me anything about mixing yet!
OK, well now that I’ve talked about organization, I can start to address those specific groups that I mentioned above, and talk about how they relate to orchestral/trailer music.
Generally, the better your arrangement / orchestration, the better your mix will be. With orchestral music you have a unique problem, because there are some classic blends.
For example, someone earlier mentioned blending the tuba with double-bass is bad because of the clash in frequencies. Unfortunately, this is a really excellent combination of sound. Tuba + double-bass work great together, especially on staccatos, even though they are playing the same note.
My point is:
It’s NOT all about frequencies. It’s also about timbre.
This is where what I mentioned about volumes comes into play. You need to make sure the levels of your instruments are correct at all times.
One of the most common mistakes that people make with MIDI-orchestral music is to keep the volume levels very static. They should be changing all the time, you know - like real instrumental players do!
Tuba+bass might clash in frequency, but stylistically, they work well together. What you need to actually do, is make sure that nothing else around them is getting in the way. You have to make decisions about what you want the audience to hear. This is all part of the arrangement.
LEVELS (linked to arrangement)
Generally, before you start EQ'ing and compressing things, you should actually check your track to really make sure that every track actually has a purpose.
Another one of the big mistakes that composers make is putting on too many tracks, to ‘make it louder’. Actually, the big secret to making things louder is to take things away!
I have generally found that pressing ‘delete’ on entire tracks can actually improve the overall piece of music because it allows the listener to focus on one particular thing and be less distracted. This is particularly important in trailer music.
There are no real rules for setting the levels in music. What you should constantly be asking about every note is ‘Does this note serve a purpose.’
If you can’t answer that question, it probably shouldn’t be there, delete it!
After that, think about prioritizing what you want the audience to hear.
A LOT of problems are solved at this stage. It is more to do with conceptualizing your track and if you know that from an early stage, again, it helps later on. (This is something that Hans Zimmer is so good at doing, conceptualizing).
Reverb is incredibly important in trailer music. Unfortunately, a lot of people use it way too much. However, this is where those groups from earlier come in handy.
One thing you don’t really want to do - is to send all your instruments to the same reverb. If you’re doing orchestral stuff, you’ll want to put the instruments in a room (convolution) first, and then bring them together with a high quality algorithimc reverb at the end (if necessary).
Eastwest QL Spaces has some great presets for orchestral music, that can help to get decent reverb settings very quickly. Here are some examples from their brass section:
Once you have done this with all your groups of instruments, you’ll start to have a level of clarity in your mix.
FILTER YOUR REVERB
A quick way to kill your track is to have a reverb build-up. When combined with EQ (which we’re almost at!) you can really help keep a clean sound in your mix.
Most good reverbs have a filter built in to their module. But if they don’t - you can set your reverb, and then in the chain after it, just put a new EQ plugin after that.
Generally speaking, avoid low-end build up on all reverb except the instruments you REALLY want low-end reverb on.
For example, QL Spaces has a reverb filter built in. For example, with violins and viola, I don’t need any low-end reverb, so…get rid of it!
One way to do that is to do it in QL Spaces. Like this…
You can do this with any EQ plugin though if your reverb unit doesn’t have good EQ capabilities.
The low-end build up in reverb is one of the key things that kills orchestral-hybrid trailer music mixes. I know because it’s happened to me many times.
This is such a huge topic in itself but I’ll just try and cover some basic things that are particularly appropriate to trailer music.
Generally speaking, if your instrument is high pitched, cut the low-end. If your instrument is low-pitched, cut the high end, but not so much that you lose the attack of the instrument.
For reducing low-end, you’ll want to use a High Pass Filter. This sets an EQ at a certain frequency, and allows frequencies higher than that base frequency to ‘pass’ through.
Honestly, you can do this on anything that isn’t going to have low-end importance in your piece. For high woodwinds for example, you can set the filter at a much higher level.
Also, even on stuff with extreme low end - I like to cut everything below 20 Hz. It’s just a mess down there anyway. The only instruments you want to have anything in there at all are subbass and maybe some low drums.
After that, you will want to look at cutting ‘mud’. Mud generally builds up at around 300 Hz, but you will need to use your ears for this. You will want to use a ‘bell’ EQ for this. Make sure the ‘Q’ (wideness) is not too big as you will end up cutting some important low end too. Also, don’t cut too much as you will end up losing the characteristic of the original instrument that occurs here.
Finally, another area that commonly builds up is around the 3000 Hz area. This area is generally referred to as the ‘irritation’ frequencies. You can do quite a wide cut here, but not too extreme. It will make things sound a little bit less harsh.
Great, but how do I know when to use all this EQ?
Pretty simple, if you want something to stand out, CUT, the things around it. If something is standing out too much, CUT it. You are always better off cutting than boosting.
If you boost, then you are going to have to cut somewhere else.
However, if you cut too much, you may end up losing too much of the original material.
This is why it is so important not to overdo it with EQ, unless you are looking for an extreme effect. You are much much better off trying to get it well balanced with levels, before making drastic EQ changes.
MORE EQ thoughts.
Honestly, the use of EQ to me is common sense. If you want a particular instrument to stand out, cut other instruments in that area, and boost that one a little.
Make sure you are boosting / cutting the frequencies that the instrument registers most strongly in. To do this you will need to use your ears. And because your ears are probably still untrained compared to a pro mixer, you will need to practice this a lot. Always make sure you are cutting the right frequencies.
My point being, is that just because some guy told you on a forum that cutting at 300 Hz is good doesn’t mean it is right. The answer might be 350 Hz, 400 Hz, 200 Hz, use your ears to work out what the problem is.
I apply EQ sometimes to individual instruments, but mostly to the groups that I mentioned above. I believe that 80% of the work is done before EQ’ing, and I EQ in the groups to help fine tune things and bring things more tightly together. You should not have to EQ every single drum, etc… to get things working, if it’s not working, the problem is probably in the arrangement, not the EQ.
EQ when used properly is a powerful tool, but because it is so powerful, you can often end up warping your track beyond recognition.
If that happens, you can always start again - because at least you will know what NOT to do!
With the hybrid orchestral music, generally, the things you want to compress are the rhythmic / pulsing elements, i.e. the things that drive the music forward. If you listen to Two Steps From Hell, or X-Ray Dogg, or other hybrid trailer music, the staccato strings are in your face all the time. However, when something becomes more lyrical, the compressors are generally off, because they need things to be more dynamic.
Honestly, I regard using compressors on the ORCHESTRAL elements as a last resort. You can generally get good and natural results by setting levels correctly. Then you can clean that up by cutting in the EQ if necessary.
Things you will want to use the compressors on are drums, but you need to be careful. If you over-compress the drums, they will take all the headroom from the other elements. You will need to EQ the drums first to accentuate the sound you really want to hear, and then compress the EQ’ed signal. What most people are looking for in the trailer music is that hard THWACK, when the drum is hit. This means that really you are looking to compress the transient, rather than the rest of the drum sound. Therefore you should make sure that the release time on the compressor is quick - but not unnaturally quick, so that other elements can come back in so they are not dominated by the drum’s decay sound.
HOWEVER, if what you are looking for is to accentuate the THWACK sound. You can also solve this in the arrangement by adding in a high instrument. Instead of trying to get one drum to sound incredible. Why not combine the low-end taiko drum, with a high-end bamboo stick? They will still sound like one drum, but have just as much impact, if not more than something that has been compressed. This is layering and has already been mentioned here.
A quick way to improve your mix is to make sure the panning is good. A lot of things that composers do is put everything in the center because they orchestral sample libraries they use are often pre-panned. This is a good STARTING approach, but you can accentuate this a little more by being more aggressive with the panning. I like to do this in Kontakt, as it means that when I save my multi, the pan settings will still be there for my next track.
The only real rule for panning is that the instruments that are the foundation of your track should be in the center. With orchestral music though this is different, and you should try to follow the orchestral placement rules where possible. Here is a chart from Presonus, use this as a starting point, and tweak if necessary.
- If in doubt, cut the low end.
If in doubt, cut…!
The problem is more often in the arrangement. If you don’t know why a note is in a certain place, then it shouldn’t be there. Taking things away can immediately make other elements more powerful.
Avoid buildups of reverb by EQ’ing, filtering your reverb.
Compressors should be a last resort unless you’re looking for a specific effect. If you want to accentuate a certain sound, you can often achieve the same effect by layering.
When you do decide to layer, layer sensibly. The most common mistake is in drums. I WANT MY DRUMS TO SOUND MORE EPIC, therefore I add more low-end drums. Big mistake as this just makes everything messy. What you need to do is have the low-end be more focused, and then layer something high-end with more attack on top. You can even add in something in the mid range (a high tom) that will help accentuate the drums even more.
Always check your levels so you are not clipping. You can always turn up your volume on whatever is delivering sound to your headphones/speakers, just don’t do it in the sequencer.
Don’t treat the mix and master process as the same thing (this is very common). They should be separate processes. Your track should sound incredible before it has been mastered.
Groups, groups, groups (or stems!). Organization at the beginning will help you keep track of things when your mix gets complicated. Set up good bussing/routing so you can have command of your entire string section on one fader, and your low percussion on another, etc…
Listen to your mix quietly. This is especially hard when doing trailer music, but it really helps a lot.
In order to get power in your music, you need to find clarity first. Listen to Hans Zimmer’s music. It sounds so big, but when you really listen to it, there are not many competing elements at all. It is however, exceptionall well layered.
Finally, remember that music is a performance. Don’t do things that take away from the performance of the music. Aggressively EQ’ing and compressing will do that immediately. The best trailer tracks (the ones that people like the most and are memorable) are the ones that capture the best performance.
If your track sounds good at the mix level, you will have less to do at the mastering stage.
My mastering process for trailer tracks is generally:
BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING, make sure when you render your mix that you leave around 5dB of headroom in your track. Otherwise, your mastering plugins will have no room to do their thing.
Saturation (if necessary, I use VintageWarmer 2)
EQ (generally boost a tiny little bit in the bass, cut a bit in the mud and irritation (300/3000Hz), and boost extreme high-end a little bit. Do NOT make big EQ changes at mastering.
Reverb (if it’s an orchestral only track, I’ll put a high quality reverb plugin on the entire orchestral track. If it’s a hybrid track, I’ll have the electronic and orchestral elements separated, and put the good reverb plugin on the orchestral elements (and maybe some pads) only.
Multiband Stereo Imaging.
iZotope Ozone has a great multi-band stereo imager. You set the frequency bands for the range that you want to enhance/reduce the stereo image for, and then adjust for taste. Generally for hybrid trailer music I like to narrow the bass to get it really focused, and widen the higher end stuff.
Generally I am not too aggressive with the loudness. I usually just find the loudest part of the piece and set the threshold to a part where the limiter is JUST kicking in. As you can see below, I’m looping a loud part of the track, and you can see in the maximizer display where things are kicking in.
You can really end up destroying your tracks when using limiters (L3 is another good one). Don’t use it too much. Now if you’re doing dubstep on the other hand…
Please remember, that these are all just tips and things that have helped me along the way. They’re not ‘the answer’, but things that I’ve done that I know clients have liked.
Above all, use your ears and constantly compare your music to what others sounds like. soundroll left a great tip here a while back about bringing a professionally mastered track by someone else from the same genre that you are writing in, to try match that sound. It is a simple thing to do, but a very good tip. If you’re not listening to other people’s music, then you have no reference point for yourself.
I am by no means a professional mixer. If you really want the best results for your music then use a pro mixer. However, a pro mixer cannot fix a bad arrangement.
Finally, here are two tracks where I think I did a decent job (though now, I think I could do better). One is orchestral/hybrid, and the other is orchestral only. The tracks were made following most of the guidelines I wrote above. The playback will be compressed because of Box’s player, if you want the mastered WAV files (and/or stems) please send me a message and I can probably work something out.
Hybrid - https://gareth-coker.box.com/s/x93lo1p5htvwq4ye4yv5
Orchestral - https://gareth-coker.box.com/s/td9t8qswpywsu5jk9js3
Finally, to Crian
I would suggest you upload the stems of your track and maybe let other users have a go at mixing? This has been done before a couple of times (most recently by tacomusic in this thread http://audiojungle.net/forums/thread/creating-a-clean-and-well-separated-mix/76060 ).
(a lot of comments by me in that thread are the same as what I’ve written here!)
You may find it helpful, because other users have different processes and will hear things differently to you. You would need to bounce out the stems of your track and upload them, and then authors could take care of the rest. It’s up to you but you may learn a lot of things very quickly.
Alright, that’s it, I’m done!