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How to mix orchestral music - what plugins?

hansandersen

Senior Member
Hi. I barely know anything about mixing and I've heard it's a crucial part in making your score sound complete. Do anyone of you have some tips or could you maybe link me to some videos about orchestral mixing? I tried Google/YT and nothing useful came up. What plugins do people use the most? As of now I've had a look at FabFilter Q3/Valhalla... any other plugins? Thanks in advance!
 

ProfoundSilence

Senior Member
Fabfilter alone could work if it's good source material/programming.

if you want to sound like it "does in the movies" then use something similar to what they use. A tried and true reverb unit is the bricasti, and while I don't own one myself - seventh heaven(I like the professional version) sounds great to me.

not saying you couldn't use a convolution - but it's not typically something that would get used on an actual recording of an orchestra, although it might help with placement/wetness for very dry libraries or close recordings.

some saturators, tape sims, maybe subtle compression - but you'd have to give us an example of a reference recording and what your own source material is
 

ProfoundSilence

Senior Member
I'm actually playing around with just EQ and mic balance before I start rebuilding my template

[AUDIOPLUS=https://vi-control.net/community/attachments/eq-only-example-mp3.17574/][/AUDIOPLUS]


this is just using pro-q3 and kontakt.

some plugins I would suggest in general though:

Fabfilter pro-Q3, pro-L/C2, Saturn.
S1 stereo
Seventh Heaven
Waves NLS
Waves LoAir
Sometimes I like Kramer Tape

and people use the crap out of clariphonic, I've just been too lazy to pick it up.(honestly sometimes oneknob brighter gets thrown on things when I'm lazy)


but above all else - have an idea for the sound you want going into it. use a reference recording, even if you plan on deviating from it.
 

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Jimmy Hellfire

Senior Member
If you barely know anything about mixing, I'd not waste too much money on plug-ins yet. Especially not for stuff like Fabfilter.

Fabfilter is popular because they're very precise, clean tools with very advanced features - for advanced users. But there's nothing about their EQ that would make your music sound different if you used it instead of your DAWs stock EQ. It doesn't have its own sound or anything - it shouldn't have. It's designed to be an exact, uncolored tool. Don't expect too much. If you're more of a novice when it comes to mixing, it just does tons of stuff you plain don't understand yet - and don't need at all.

You're correct that mixing is an important step in making any kind of production complete - not just orchestral. But that's not a question of buying all the right plug-ins, but understanding the process. There's no real tutorial on "orchestral mixing". Because the general mixing principles apply. There are of course some little tricks and tweaks that some engineers like to do dealing with a certain kind of source material, but that comes later and is personal style and experience.

So, that's the not-very-fun, not very gearhead, anti-"take my money" advice: invest more time learning about mixing and audio processing - there's ton of information out there - and get to know and understand your stock plug-ins. Put in the work. That way, you will be able to make educated decisions when it comes to future plug-in purchases.
 

Jdiggity1

Stroking The Frog
Moderator
Honestly, stick with the stock plugins of your DAW for now. You can get 95% of the way there with stock + free plugins. The other 5% will only come with time, not new plugins.

Use your stock EQ, Compressor, Limiter.
And here are some freebies for extras:
TDR Nova for dynamic EQ: https://www.tokyodawn.net/tdr-nova/
Proximity for pushing things 'back in the mix': https://www.tokyodawn.net/proximity/
iZotope Imager for stereo width control (narrowing and widening): https://www.izotope.com/en/products/master-and-deliver/ozone/ozone-imager.html
Voxengo SPAN for spectral and volume analysis: https://www.voxengo.com/group/free-vst-plugin-download/
For convolution reverb, get this: https://www.meldaproduction.com/MConvolutionEZ and use the free bricasti Impulse Responses from samplicity http://www.samplicity.com/bricasti-m7-impulse-responses/
For saturation and drive try this: https://klanghelm.com/contents/products/IVGI/IVGI.php

If you can't make it sound good with stock plugins and those freebies listed above, the fault lies somewhere else.

BUT, if you still want to spend some money... look at Toneboosters plugins. Fantastic value and light on CPU. Grab a couple waves plugins on sale, like the SSL Master Bus compressor, PuigTec EQ, J37, LoAir...
iZotope Neutron for a great all-in-one mix/master suite with clever EQ features and harmonic exciters... Lexicon verbs (PCM bundle if you want to spend lots, MXP if you want to spend very little), or as ProfoundSilence recommended above, Seventh Heaven by LiquidSonics.
 

leon chevalier

Piano roll musician
If you barely know anything about mixing, I'd not waste too much money on plug-ins yet. Especially not for stuff like Fabfilter.

Fabfilter is popular because they're very precise, clean tools with very advanced features - for advanced users. But there's nothing about their EQ that would make your music sound different if you used it instead of your DAWs stock EQ. It doesn't have its own sound or anything - it shouldn't have. It's designed to be an exact, uncolored tool. Don't expect too much. If you're more of a novice when it comes to mixing, it just does tons of stuff you plain don't understand yet - and don't need at all.

You're correct that mixing is an important step in making any kind of production complete - not just orchestral. But that's not a question of buying all the right plug-ins, but understanding the process. There's no real tutorial on "orchestral mixing". Because the general mixing principles apply. There are of course some little tricks and tweaks that some engineers like to do dealing with a certain kind of source material, but that comes later and is personal style and experience.

So, that's the not-very-fun, not very gearhead, anti-"take my money" advice: invest more time learning about mixing and audio processing - there's ton of information out there - and get to know and understand your stock plug-ins. Put in the work. That way, you will be able to make educated decisions when it comes to future plug-in purchases.
Honestly, stick with the stock plugins of your DAW for now. You can get 95% of the way there with stock + free plugins. The other 5% will only come with time, not new plugins.

Use your stock EQ, Compressor, Limiter.
And here are some freebies for extras:
TDR Nova for dynamic EQ: https://www.tokyodawn.net/tdr-nova/
Proximity for pushing things 'back in the mix': https://www.tokyodawn.net/proximity/
iZotope Imager for stereo width control (narrowing and widening): https://www.izotope.com/en/products/master-and-deliver/ozone/ozone-imager.html
Voxengo SPAN for spectral and volume analysis: https://www.voxengo.com/group/free-vst-plugin-download/
For convolution reverb, get this: https://www.meldaproduction.com/MConvolutionEZ and use the free bricasti Impulse Responses from samplicity http://www.samplicity.com/bricasti-m7-impulse-responses/
For saturation and drive try this: https://klanghelm.com/contents/products/IVGI/IVGI.php

If you can't make it sound good with stock plugins and those freebies listed above, the fault lies somewhere else.

BUT, if you still want to spend some money... look at Toneboosters plugins. Fantastic value and light on CPU. Grab a couple waves plugins on sale, like the SSL Master Bus compressor, PuigTec EQ, J37, LoAir...
iZotope Neutron for a great all-in-one mix/master suite with clever EQ features and harmonic exciters... Lexicon verbs (PCM bundle if you want to spend lots, MXP if you want to spend very little), or as ProfoundSilence recommended above, Seventh Heaven by LiquidSonics.
You guys said everything ! Perfect answers for a start !
 

ProfoundSilence

Senior Member
I don't think someone CAN waste money on a fabfilter EQ... unless they have absolutely no clue how to use an EQ and don't want to learn.

when I first started I thought that much money for an EQ seems silly, but the only reason I upgraded to pro-Q3 from Q2 was realizing I could EQ multi-output plugins with a single instance. The dynamic EQ *seems* cool, but it's not going to change a whole lot other than taming low mids, or adding a little more "air excitement"
 

ProfoundSilence

Senior Member
I thought murphy did a masterclass video, but last time I checked it turned out to be a seminar...

I died on the inside hahaha. Would LOVE for shawn murphy to do a video masterclass series.
 

Wally Garten

Active Member
Hi. I barely know anything about mixing and I've heard it's a crucial part in making your score sound complete. Do anyone of you have some tips or could you maybe link me to some videos about orchestral mixing? I tried Google/YT and nothing useful came up. What plugins do people use the most? As of now I've had a look at FabFilter Q3/Valhalla... any other plugins? Thanks in advance!
1) Completely agree with others who say start with the tools you already have. Standard DAW tools will do almost all the work.
2) YouTube and the internet are filled with people saying you need to EQ everything, you need to put a compressor on everything, you need complicated effects busses for all your parts. I think it's better to try to do less, though. Especially with sample libraries -- they tend to sound pretty good out of the box. My rule of thumb is that I add stuff as I need it, or just to see if it makes a difference, but never as a matter of course.
3) Go to extremes, then dial back. At first, it's hard to get a sense of how much of a certain mixing plugin you need. The differences can be subtle. It's okay to turn knobs all the way up to see what happens; that's how you learn.
4) A/B comparisons are very helpful. Click the bypass button on the plugin; is it really doing anything?
5) Generally, you need less reverb than you initially think.
6) I also agree with the idea that mixing is pretty much mixing; that said, keep in mind that orchestral works -- especially classical works -- tend to have a pretty large dynamic range, and that's part of the aesthetic. Don't over-compress or slam up the limiter.
7) Be wary of plugins that promise to "analyze" and automatically improve your mix. They don't always give good advice.
8) Despite 2), 6), and 7), the Klevgrand Korvpressor is a very nice "sausage" type compressor/limiter to add at the end. Just makes things sound louder and clearer without too much disruption.
9) Learn to use sends/aux/busses instead of inserting plugins on individual tracks. If instruments are experiencing the same compression patterns, or are mixed together in the same reverb tail, it tends to "glue" them together and make them sound like they're in a coherent space/sonic universe. (This is part of why you will often see people on here looking for "dry" instruments -- many people want to put all the various VI's into a single reverb, rather than having the manufacturers' reverb sounds slapping around all over the place.)
10) This is the worst for someone like me who likes to start writing by just banging around on various instruments that have the right emotional connotations, but try to keep in mind that a good mix starts with orchestration/instrumentation. There's only so much room in people's ears for any give band of frequencies. (The low range can get especially crowded.) Figure out what sounds you want in each range. That way instruments aren't competing with each other.
11) Bass sounds should be in mono or basically centered.

Those are all the tips I can think of at the moment. Good luck!
 

Gerhard Westphalen

Scoring Mixer
I thought murphy did a masterclass video, but last time I checked it turned out to be a seminar...

I died on the inside hahaha. Would LOVE for shawn murphy to do a video masterclass series.
He did a couple of videos on MWTM and I believe they filmed some more content with him (maybe a mix deconstruction) during the seminar.
 

Gerhard Westphalen

Scoring Mixer
I'd suggest Fabfilter (for convenience over stock plugins), Seventh Heaven, and Altiverb. After that you can get color plugins like different EQ's or distortion plugins. Picking something like which high shelf you're going to use on orchestra for a given project can have a big impact but it's more of an advanced thing. It was interesting to see Shawn Murphy compare some of the high shelf plugins he normally uses for different scores.
 

Nick Batzdorf

Moderator
Moderator
You know, before samples (and the digital revolution), when TV and film music was recorded live, music was orchestrated so skillfully that the engineer barely touched the faders. He (rarely she in those days) would know when solos were coming up, but otherwise the music basically mixed itself.

Reading the title of this thread, it occurs to me that you should be able to get close to that Platonic ideal when writing for sampled orchestra just by using EQ and the right reverb.

Never going to happen, of course, but you'd think it could.
 

I like music

Senior Member
While this is being discussed, do people use compressors a lot? My understanding of what a compressor does may be wrong (I'm a total newbie too) but I understand it to limit/shrink the dynamic range (in terms of loudness?) of a track, so that the loudest parts (crash cymbals) aren't SO much louder than the quietest parts. Is that right?

I constantly feel like I don't want to apply this to my music, but it seems like a TON of people use it. Is it for listening convenience (e.g. you don't want all those people who bought your cd constantly reaching for the volume knob on their stereo etc?). Are most orchestral recordings I hear compressed to some extent?
 

S.M Hassani

CodeUltra Sounds
IMHO Mixing is about knowing what to do while using tools that don't get in the way of doing it. I may come back to this later.

For now let me suggest a couple of reasonably priced tools (being currently on sale) which will probably make your mixing life easier:

Sonible's Smart Eq2: ($89 right now, or just $9 to upgrade from older versions)

Because it will give you something really important when mixing: another -hopefully better- perspective on the sound you're working with. This will help you learn the art of EQ in general.

BOZ Digital Labs Transgressor: (Also see Big Beautiful Door) $29 each today.

Because it will help you mix and shape percussive material better than most other tools I've tried.

Do your own research and build from there.

Best of luck,

S.M
 

mikeh-375

old school
You know, before samples (and the digital revolution), when TV and film music was recorded live, music was orchestrated so skillfully that the engineer barely touched the faders. He (rarely she in those days) would know when solos were coming up, but otherwise the music basically mixed itself.

Reading the title of this thread, it occurs to me that you should be able to get close to that Platonic ideal when writing for sampled orchestra just by using EQ and the right reverb.

Never going to happen, of course, but you'd think it could.
This is my philosophy too Nick. Obviously there are fudges with samples to make 'em work, but a solid course in orchestration is surely the starting point for the OP if he hasn't already done this as that is where the real art of "mixing" occurs. Admittedly though, knowing about mastering in this day and age is as important, and I am checking out the helpful links here too. Best of all though, listen to recordings then twiddle your knob to match...;)
 

averystemmler

Active Member
Echoing the above, I think it's also easy sometimes to forget step one, which is getting the balance right. If you keep EQing something but it never seems to fit, it might actually just need to be turned down. Or, maybe removed, or reorchestrated. I've spent an eternity hacking every offensive frequency out of a sound before coming to the realization "if I hate this damn harp so much, why am I using it?"

With samples, it's effortless to go overboard. Really analysing how much clutter you need can be liberating, and make mixing that much easier.
 
As stated above, learning would be the best investment for now. It will help you later to decide what you need for which purpose... The sound engineering foundations are universal, nothing dedicated to orchestral music.
At the same time, taking benefit from your teacher(s) you could use trials and educational discount to chose/buy your 1st plugins.

Tools power grow only with knowledge and experience.
 
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