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From Mixing to Mastering, getting that big sound?


(@moresco)
Active Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 15
Topic starter  

You know the sound, those big rock records with the in your face drums, the screaming layers of guitar and bass, all kinds of other instruments, but seemingly sitting on top is that clear, attention grabbing vocal. And yet with all that, you can still hear distinct separation and dynamics. The audio doesn't wear you out.

Dilemma?
Here's my dilemma. I want a similar sound to this, but my screaming guitars are acoustic, ha ha. Usually four to six tracks of acoustic guitars. So guitars, drums, sometimes bass if I can get it, and then the vocals are usually layered pretty thick as well. What I typically do is have one rhythm guitar line, and I'll just have two tracks of the part played twice, one 70% left, one 70% right, doubling it. Then I'll do the same with a lead guitar line, but it will actually usually end up being one lead line on the left, and then a second lead line different from the other on the right. And then for vocals there's a bit more of that repeated, although for the main lead vocal the doubled lead vocal is reduced in volume until it's hardly even noticeable.

Equipment
My equipment is simple, I own a Takamine acoustic, it has a decent sound. I own a large capsule condenser mic (a R0de NT2-A) that I run through an ART Pro Channel Tube Preamp. I use the lightest compression for the vocals, apply a lowcut at around 75hz and I don't really use much gain other than a little amount to get the tubes working just enough for a nice sound. Then it goes straight into the Audigy 4 Pro (I know it's ancient, but it works) and then into Sonar 7. The drum tracks are done via EZdrummer.

Mix process
Everything I record sounds great, but I have serious questions about what I should be doing during the mix stage, and the mastering stage as well. Let's start with the mix. The vocals are clear, but they're a bit flat sounding, and for a time I used a little EQ to brighten them up and make them sound crisper. From there I would mix at a fairly basic volume, keeping things fairly low in volume and just trying to get the instruments to blend together well.

Mastering with Ozone 3
Once I accomplished that, or felt that I had anyway, I would export a 96khz-24 bit wav and slap that into another project that only had Ozone 3 as the single plugin. From there I would apply stereo imaging, harmonic exciters (I removed the EQ to the vocals and guitars, because this coupled with the parametric EQ seemed to be plenty of adjustment), parametric EQ based on a matching profile of another acoustic-rock full band sound that I felt would be good to shoot for.

Compression is hard
From there I got stuck, messing with the dynamic multiband processing. Compressors, expanders...I found myself tightening up band 1, expanding band 4, and really just going nuts over bands 2 and 3 because I couldn't find the right balance. That's when I started to wonder, should I be compressing these drum tracks in the mix - it's EZdrummer, I don't know if it even needs to be compressed in the mix? How about the guitars? Vocals?

Conclusion?
Everything sounds big to me, with maybe the vocal being the one thing that just doesn't quite shine as much as I'd like. With all that music, some of the high notes sound thin, or lower in volume. They don't sound like that solo'd, but with everything else on there, it really gets lost. Sometimes the sound can become fuzzy when too many vocals/guitars/drums try to jump out all at once.

Tearing my hair out over here, could really use some advice on a better setup from start to finish from those who are also going the home recording-DAW-mastering plugin route.

So the big questions are:
When to use compression/EQ in the mix?
How to get all the instruments and parts to be heard, like in those big rock records, with dynamics and separation?
What can I do to get the vocals to be clearer, to be on top of everything and yet to blend multiple voices together without distorting?
Concerning multiband dynamics processing, 4 band, what should I be applying here as far as compression/dynamics?

Samples of the sound
You can witness some of the early attempts that didn't turn out so great, here:
theRedPress on facebook

And the output of a track from last night, no effects on the mix besides a de-esser for slight sibilance, then ran it through Ozone:
Track 14 - Two Hands Apart @ 1/31/09

Desperately want to improve the sound here, so any help is immensely appreciated. Cheers.

-Brent
theRedPress


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(@moonrider)
Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 1309
 

You'll get better answers to those questions here: http://www.thewombforums.com/
Use the search functions extensively. There's quite a few "name" engineers over there that will help you. Most of them post anonymously to avoid "fanboi" posts.

Playing guitar and never playing for others is like studying medicine and never working in a clinic.

Moondawgs on Reverbnation


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(@moresco)
Active Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 15
Topic starter  

I appreciate the link. Been there reading for several hours now, and it just seems way over my head, even more so than usual. The search has brought up all kinds of information, but they joke/screw around so often I can't even tell when the information is serious. =/ Frustrating. But, I will keep looking.

Never mind the above, I did find a nice tutorial to get some grounded information on this mixing business by Charles Dye, it was in the "read first" post =D Who would have guessed?

-Brent
theRedPress


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(@moonrider)
Noble Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 1309
 

I appreciate the link. Been there reading for several hours now, and it just seems way over my head, even more so than usual. The search has brought up all kinds of information, but they joke/screw around so often I can't even tell when the information is serious. =/ Frustrating. But, I will keep looking.

Never mind the above, I did find a nice tutorial to get some grounded information on this mixing business by Charles Dye, it was in the "read first" post =D Who would have guessed?

Charles is a pip! The "university" section is geared more for the inexperienced, while the MiLAR area has more advanced topics. Check out Slipperman's area too. He's got an infamous thread on recording distorted guitar.

Other people to pay particular attention to are: Bob Ohlsson, otek, Pimp-X, e-cue, and of course Mixerman on the increasingly rare occasions he posts something besides an opinion

Playing guitar and never playing for others is like studying medicine and never working in a clinic.

Moondawgs on Reverbnation


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 Cat
(@cat)
Noble Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 1225
 

Aside from what the session players are doing as far as them coming up w/what the prodcer asks for you should consider:

...premium software/state-of-the-art studio/university.

That's a fac, jak!

Cat

"Feel what you play...play what you feel!"


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(@moresco)
Active Member
Joined: 13 years ago
Posts: 15
Topic starter  

I'm actually having better luck with this now. I learned a bit about gain staging and it seems to be helping to keep things under control. The end result is typically a lot more pleasant it seems. I'm still having a little bit of trouble figuring out some of the Ozone stuff, but at least my mixes are starting to sound better.

-Brent
theRedPress


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(@nexion)
Honorable Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 536
 

I took a recording class once and one way he showed us to help bring vocals out was to cut a certain frequency in EQ from every other instrument. Although I can't quite remember the frequency, I want to say something in the 60's. It actually worked beautifully, you couldn't really tell anything was missing from the instruments but it really helped clear the vocals up.

Maybe someone here or at that other site can specify the frequency range to cut out, I'm fairly certain it's a pretty common technique. You might just check the frequency output of the vocals, and then lower those frequencies from every other instrument.

Hope this helps. :o

"That’s what takes place when a song is written: You see something that isn’t there. Then you use your instrument to find it."
- John Frusciante


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