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Tips for getting instruments' volume just right, and getting multiple VSTs to work well together?

Coriolis

New Member
Sometimes something like a piccolo will dominate a mix, when something like a trumpet ensemble will reside somewhere in the background: even when the patches are part of a pack by the same company. When quieter instruments dominate the mix, it hurts the cohesion of the parts. What are some tips for efficiently getting the volumes right, and make it sound natural?

What about getting VSTs from different companies to play well together, and blend with other companies' instruments?
 

josejherring

Senior Member
Look up information on balancing a template.

I did a youtube vid on it a while back. I used a piece that I had to put together in 6hrs so it's a good example of using a balanced template. There also plenty of others.

 

d.healey

Music Monkey
Piccolo is not a quiet instrument! :P

An approach I use is to mock-up a few bars of something that has a pretty decent size orchestra going. Recently I did the main theme from Silverado, then I balance my virtual instruments to get the volume levels to match up with the real recording. Do this a few times with different pieces to get a kind of average.
 

Tice

Active Member
You really have to have the sound of a real orchestra committed to memory. Your ear, compared to your memory of what it 'should' sound like are your primary tools. If you cannot isolate a single instrument from the rest of the orchestra by hearing and hear how it sits in the mix, then I'm not sure how you'd even begin to properly emulate it with samples. That said, there's no single way to do it. Orchestras for film for instance tend to be mic-ed and mixed in very different ways depending on what they were going for. So in that sense there's no 'wrong' way to do it, except if you don't like the result.
 

robgb

I was young once
If you're looking to make a faithful "natural" mock-up then, of course, a realistic balance is essential. But if your intention is to record and serve the composition rather than the orchestra, you have to look for a different kind of balance. One that won't necessarily be faithful to the sound of an actual orchestra. Bernard Herrmann was known to take quite a few liberties in the mixing stage and bring up the sound of certain instruments in order to serve the movie he was scoring. He produced the sound inside his head rather than slavishly adhering to what was possible live. Other composers do this as well. Hans Zimmer is known to do some pretty outlandish things to get the sound he's going for.

I think it's great to try to emulate an orchestra, but what we're doing with samples is not recreating an orchestra. That's actually impossible. The flexibility of sample libraries and our mix allows us to do things no orchestra could ever do. And that's a good thing.
 

Fredeke

Active Member
Sometimes something like a piccolo will dominate a mix, when something like a trumpet ensemble will reside somewhere in the background: even when the patches are part of a pack by the same company. When quieter instruments dominate the mix, it hurts the cohesion of the parts. What are some tips for efficiently getting the volumes right, and make it sound natural?

What about getting VSTs from different companies to play well together, and blend with other companies' instruments?
If you can hear when there's a discrepency in the levels, then you can hear when the levels are right... Right?
So, why not start by following what your ears tell you? Lower what is too loud and boost what is too quiet, according to yourself.

Don't always trust library publishers for consistent levels. Sometimes their priority is to take the best possible advantage of the bit depth's dynamic for each instrument, regardless of the instrument's actual level in the orchestra. It's a choice that has its technical merits, but tends indeed to overblow the higher pitched instruments.

You can never entirely dispense with a bit of mixing, anyway.
 
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Wolfie2112

Senior Member
Once thing I do is create a template of the orchestral patches I use regularly, and set all the levels so that the instruments already have their proper balance in the overall mix. By not taking this approach, you set yourself up for some real headaches when trying to mix a larger project once it's all sequenced.....especially if the mix is already hot and you need to boost something like the piccolo.
 

hawpri

Active Member
To get the volume just right I would suggest listening to an existing score or concert piece with a sound you like a lot, but do it at a low volume, and then do the same with your work. It's easier to hear what sticks out or what disappears in a mix when you're not listening at loud or normal levels (in my experience/opinion).
 

Olivier1024

Member
Piccolo is not a quiet instrument! :P
Jurgen Meyer - Acoustics and the Performance of Music
Page 70 - 3.2.1.4 The Piccolo
"In addition, it should be noted that the dynamic performance range of the piccolo
is particularly narrow. On the average it barely covers 15 dB, and it is just that wide over the entire tonal range (Burghauser and Spelda, 1971).
At pp the piccolo is therefore very loud in comparison to other instruments : the lower dynamic limit rises from a sound power level of 78 dB for the low notes, to a value of 88 dB in the highest register.
Correspondingly an ff produces values between 93 and 103 dB, so that in high passages the piccolo can certainly be made to stand out in a full instrumentation orchestra sound: Particularly typical examples of this are found in the symphonies of D. Shostakovich."

https://books.google.fr/books?id=Mlkut4PAAiUC&pg
 

d.healey

Music Monkey
Jurgen Meyer - Acoustics and the Performance of Music
Page 70 - 3.2.1.4 The Piccolo
"In addition, it should be noted that the dynamic performance range of the piccolo
is particularly narrow. On the average it barely covers 15 dB, and it is just that wide over the entire tonal range (Burghauser and Spelda, 1971).
At pp the piccolo is therefore very loud in comparison to other instruments : the lower dynamic limit rises from a sound power level of 78 dB for the low notes, to a value of 88 dB in the highest register.
Correspondingly an ff produces values between 93 and 103 dB, so that in high passages the piccolo can certainly be made to stand out in a full instrumentation orchestra sound: Particularly typical examples of this are found in the symphonies of D. Shostakovich."

https://books.google.fr/books?id=Mlkut4PAAiUC&pg
Exactly! Bloody loud things.
 

GingerMaestro

Active Member
I'm trying to set up a basic template in Logic, is there a rule of thumb of what maximum level on the meters you should have each instrument coming in at. I guess this is called getting the gain structure right ? I'm not working on a specific piece at the moment, just trying to get some basics set up. I know this is a massively complicated topic, but any tips would be greatly received. I'm reading trhough alot of posts as well ! Thanks evenryone
 

STec

New Member
Mike Verta has a course on template balancing, it’s really good.

Also, listen to some mono recording of orchestra, you will have a feel of the depth without the distraction of the stereo field and you’ll know it hasn’t been ‘fixed in the mix’ I suggest Pierre Monteux in France 1952-1958
 

JohnG

Senior Member
I'm trying to set up a basic template in Logic, is there a rule of thumb of what maximum level on the meters you should have each instrument coming in at. I guess this is called getting the gain structure right ? I'm not working on a specific piece at the moment, just trying to get some basics set up. I know this is a massively complicated topic, but any tips would be greatly received. I'm reading trhough alot of posts as well ! Thanks evenryone
It doesn't have to be that complicated, but agree there is a lot people say about it. The one surefire guideline, however, is to set your monitors so you hear everything at a consistent volume, so you can tell when something "just ain't right."

Here's how to do that:

1. As others have said, your ears are your best guide to mixing, not VU meters. But...
2. ...you have to have a baseline, and for that...
3. ...buy an inexpensive (less than $100; many less than $25) sound pressure VU meter (also called a "live sound monitor" or "Decibel Meter" or "Sound Level Meter") and then,
4. Run pink noise through your speakers one at a time (panning), turning up the volume on your amplifier until the sound pressure meter, held at the same location as your ears would be when mixing, measures the pink noise volume at, say, 85dB (decibels).

By doing these steps, you have set your speakers to your desired monitoring level and there you go.

Why 85dB? Some monitor at very low levels, some pretty hot. I use 88dB but there are renowned mixers out there who work in the 70s and at least one who says he works below 70dB. I like loud music so I use a higher level than that or else I would end up turning the drums up too loud.

Although many use them, I personally would not rely on an app on my iPhone for measuring sound levels, FWIW. Who knows what abuse has affected one's microphone in a phone over time? But maybe that would be fine too, IDK.

Here's an article (chosen pretty much at random) about how to do this, with a few more details (like making sure you're not running the pink noise through any FX, and setting the meter on your sound pressure meter to "C weighted"):


I don't know this guy but his advice looks reasonable to me.
 
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purple

Member
I just recently created a new moderately-sized template for a project I'm working on. I wanted to have the mixes sound a lot like the World of Warcraft scores (specifically a couple of the expansion packs as the original game is mostly old midi libraries) because the music of those games is a big inspiration to the project. What I did was take a short excerpt from one of the tracks, only about a minute, mock it up and balance it to sound somewhat like the original, and then use that as the basis for the project. So if you're going for a certain sound, Id mockup something from that sound, mix it well, and then use that as a template.
 
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