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Asking Input from Mastering Engineers
Old 4 weeks ago
  #1
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Asking Input from Mastering Engineers

Im looking to improve my mixes. Ive been doing this since 2003 but recently just tore apart my technique and am trying to break old habits to be better. I started getting into producing and mixing country/pop music and the reference tracks Im comparing to are just better. So Im deconstructing these songs as much as I can and trying to understand whats happening. Mix engineer advice can only go so far and I know mastering engineers really pay attention to the things I am digging into. So I am coming here to start a discussion. Ill just make bullet points with thoughts and questions.


- Reference tracks have a solid and uncluttered mono mix. So I now mix in mono a lot to make sure my kick, bass, snare, vox dont get muddy. Simple idea and common sense. But whats more interesting is what is happening in the side mix. Ive always mixed in stereo and mono back and forth but when I do, I never soloed side to see what was happening. Now I am.

- The ref tracks have sides that dont have any kick, bass, or snare unless its snare verb. That makes sense. But the sides have a lot of volume in the lows and sub frequencies. Somehow a sparse mix of kick, snare, acoustic, electric, vox will show no kick or snare in the side but these instruments go all the way down to 20hz. That is surprising to me because I always high pass 80-150 on guitars. So where is that coming from?

- I started to look at the above question and then did a lot of MS eq on guitars. Cut lows M and increase the same amount on S. This helped some. I also lowered the high pass or removed it all together. But that idea seems like a bad one. Am I overthinking this or should I be learning more about working like this?

- Their sub bass frequencies are not 100% centered. Now I already said that a kick and bass doesnt show up in the Side when solo but when I look at a stereo image analyzer it shows that their lows are waving from L to R a lot. Mine stay 100% centered. That makes sense because my kick, bass, snare are mono. So how does their low end move L to R but never appear in Side solo? Maybe this is whats showing up in the Side solo with just guitars?


These are a few questions. I will post pics, sorry they are sideways. Blue is my track, Orange is a reference track. Honestly it doesnt matter what track I reference, they all do the same things. Here is a ref track I use:



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_B75duvTmgw
Attached Thumbnails
Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-6f45da99-75ab-4543-ba86-e7acef33bf55.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-3cef3a23-a636-4f52-8cad-4f073f1ec212.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-f7409ba3-3c8d-4c66-a72e-de6dcfd9abba.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-8310884f-235b-4992-83b2-6c711d3f2713.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-13d6ec08-63fe-4ffa-82e3-b2f5c1b1460d.jpg  

Old 4 weeks ago
  #2
Motown legend
 
Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

A mix can be no better than the musical arrangement and the quality of the vocal performance!
Old 4 weeks ago
  #3
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Also, when I try to make the sides full all I do is add mud. Somehow those reference tracks show low end but they don’t sound muddy at all.

Here I am trying to explain.

Old 4 weeks ago
  #4
Quote:
Originally Posted by cap217 View Post
Also, when I try to make the sides full all I do is add mud. Somehow those reference tracks show low end but they don’t sound muddy at all.
Do not rely on graphs and do not mix to them. The sound is what matters. Just go by your ears. You can have 2 of the same graphs for 2 different songs and have 2 competently different sounds. You are overthinking the graphs in my opinion.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CJ Mastering View Post
Do not rely on graphs and do not mix to them. The sound is what matters. Just go by your ears. You can have 2 of the same graphs for 2 different songs and have 2 competently different sounds. You are overthinking the graphs in my opinion.
I dont disagree with you at all but I am clearly missing something here. Every track I reference has these 2 things going on with them and mine dont. There has to be a reason. Its not complicated, mixing is straight forward. So either I am doing something really wrong in the low end or something is happening with M/S processing at mastering.

I dont think Im doing anything wrong. Look at this of my thought process:

Old 4 weeks ago
  #6
Quote:
Every track I reference has these 2 things going on with them and mine dont. There has to be a reason. Its not complicated, mixing is straight forward.
Mixing is not straight forward. But putting that aside, when you are comparing your mixes to ones that have been professionally recorded, produced, mixed and mastered, you will need to match everyone skill level and talent, if you want your to match theirs.

This starts in the arrangement stage and carries over into the the recording stage. So if you want to match their graphs, start with your arrangements.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #7
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leitmo's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by cap217 View Post
Its not complicated, mixing is straight forward. So either I am doing something really wrong in the low end or something is happening with M/S processing at mastering.
Mixing is not straightforward. It's a huge series of technical and artistic decisions made to achieve the biggest emotional impact on a given song. As Mr. Olhsson said: a mix can be no better than the musical arrangement and vocal performance.

Don't expect mastering to make a mediocre mix shine by cutting bass on sides but leaving sub bass and sparkling highs. Do it in the mix if you are the engineer or write a better arrangement if you are the composer.

Last edited by leitmo; 4 weeks ago at 10:08 PM.. Reason: Typo
Old 4 weeks ago
  #8
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To keep things on the same page. Here is my mix and my personal master but more of a level matching thing. I dont think the mix is top end studio quality but I dont think its far off personally. I wrote, recorded, played everything on this and mixed it, except sing. If you are telling me this song/mix sucks and thats why I cant get the low end the same as what I am hearing in the other reference tracks, fair. But I dont think thats the case.

4-23-2 is a mix where I didnt worry about sides as much.

4-23-3 is where I think I may have added too much side on it as it was my first attempt to fill the lows in side.
Attached Files

Backroads 4-23-3.mp3 (7.40 MB, 496 views)

Backroads 4-23-2 .mp3 (7.40 MB, 495 views)

Old 4 weeks ago
  #9
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SmoothTone's Avatar
 

@ cap217 , can you say more about the sound you are going for? What do you feel is missing from your mixes and how would you like them to sound?
Old 4 weeks ago
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SmoothTone View Post
@ cap217 , can you say more about the sound you are going for? What do you feel is missing from your mixes and how would you like them to sound?

I posted my song right above your post (probably posting at the same time). Id like my song to sound like like these below. I know my song isnt the same energy, I get that but its the same genra:





Old 4 weeks ago
  #11
DAH
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DAH's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by cap217 View Post
I posted my song right above your post (probably posting at the same time). Id like my song to sound like like these below. I know my song isnt the same energy, I get that but its the same genra:





1. Your drums timing is not grooving
2. too much separation in drums spectrumwise (too round kick, to sparkley snare), make them more wall of sound (overheads 100 to 10k dense)
3. guitars weak, make them denser and louder
4. focus on midrange
5. your ref is compressed as f, pan-seared.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #12
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SmoothTone's Avatar
 

I think you're on the right track with the energy. That's the biggest difference I hear. I think that starts primarily with the performance, then it's about the quality of the instruments and how they're tracked to capture the energy. Tracking them loud in a nice room so that they move air and excite the natural ambience of the space... it's really hard to recreate that artificially.

The other main differences I hear are in the sense of space (reverb) and harmonic richness/density. They may just be using nice reverbs but they may also be capturing the room during tracking. There's a way that reverbs and harmonics can enhance the natural energy of a performance.

Your mix is great. But I wonder if these are the ghosts you are chasing here...
Old 4 weeks ago
  #13
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The above 2 posts are helpful. Since I’m tracking and engineering and playing all at the same time it’s near impossible to get a great sound so I settle for good. But you are right, a better performance can fill the energy and mids and make it more dense.

I’m a guy recording in a home studio and doing it all myself vs Nashville studios, top gear, and the best musicians around. I know I’m chasing perfection or what I hear as perfection while lacking those things but it’s why I’m asking for backend advice on what you guys hear.

This is helpful.

When you guys talk about my ref being super compressed and smashed, I hear it and see it but how is there still separation in the instruments and the kick and snare stand out and the vox don’t get smashed? If this is compressed like 3x more than my stuff, how is it still sounding ok? If I tried that I’d have an absolute mess.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #14
DAH
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just a quick try on this, have I caught your intentions right?
Attached Files

doingsiz.mp3 (5.92 MB, 438 views)

Old 4 weeks ago
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DAH View Post
just a quick try on this, have I caught your intentions right?
Thanks. Yes thats a lot more balanced and the vocals are smoother. It lost some of the drums impact but thats not a bad thing. The song and energy just arent what I posted as references so I guess its fair to say it wont ever sound like that.

Curious what you did? How you balanced the mix, tamed the vox.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #16
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Those previous Dustin Lynch songs are more pop oriented and sample drums with dense instruments. This song is more open and country while still being a radio song. The mix is different, the energy is different. It seems like I can go this route.

Does this sound different than others due to the artist/song or mix technique or mastering?



Old 4 weeks ago
  #17
DAH
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DAH's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by cap217 View Post
Thanks. Yes thats a lot more balanced and the vocals are smoother. It lost some of the drums impact but thats not a bad thing. The song and energy just arent what I posted as references so I guess its fair to say it wont ever sound like that.

Curious what you did? How you balanced the mix, tamed the vox.
Some MS dipping the center, eq very wide +173 and 3k about a decibel and juust a bit of short attack short release compression, not a multiband. The reference is smacked trackwise, multiband as well
Old 4 weeks ago
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DAH View Post
Some MS dipping the center, eq very wide +173 and 3k about a decibel and juust a bit of short attack short release compression, not a multiband. The reference is smacked trackwise, multiband as well
I’m going to try that just to wrap my head around it. You took a track I already slammed with a limiter and some compression. So that’s good.

Do you think I mix too aggressive with the vox? I’m trying to get them standing out and then assume it will be pulled in at mastering. I also noticed that yours made the mix more balanced. Probably has to do with the mid dip you did. Brought the vox down, mid down, and sides wider. At least to me.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #19
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One element in your Mixes that may be overlooked ... comparing to the REF Track.

Notice the El Rhy Guitar guitar on the Right is also delayed over to the Left.
There is an Intro Solo Guitar to the off center Left.
There is also a piano type sound chording on the right.

In your Mix ... you have more towards the middle.

You then don't have a 'pocket' for the Lead Vocal.

.....
Old 4 weeks ago
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RJHollins View Post
One element in your Mixes that may be overlooked ... comparing to the REF Track.

Notice the El Rhy Guitar guitar on the Right is also delayed over to the Left.
There is an Intro Solo Guitar to the off center Left.
There is also a piano type sound chording on the right.

In your Mix ... you have more towards the middle.

You then don't have a 'pocket' for the Lead Vocal.

.....
Good point. When I initially mixed this I had the guitars panned hard but as I listened more I was missing the acoustic in the center on the verses. So I doubled it and kept it wide but I had weird phase issues so I decided to add an electric with single notes on the right. Then settled on that.

Do you think that guitar is just delayed slightly and panned hard right and fx side left? I was going to do this and try it on mine. To me it sounds like 2 different parts in the ref.

Lastly, if I added keys on this and tracked it stereo. How would I pan it? Keys usually are just stereo recorded and panned l/r but are they panned differently in the ref?
Old 4 weeks ago
  #21
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only a brief listen to the Ref ...

As has been mention, orchestration and arrangement set the stage.

If different instrument parts work off each other, they can work holding the left and right side separately.

'stereo' tracks not always span across left to right. They can often spread from left to near center [shoulder of center vocal] for example.

again ... the elements of a song should all be constructed to deliver the feel, energy, and 'entertain' the ears and imagination.

2. working in MONO is a good technique to build and balance a mix. Parts and performance issue/conflicts can become more obvious ... as well as separation, overtones, blends.

Everyone has their preferred Mix method. [but should not ignore time tested techniques [mono].

I now work Mastering ... and I've had projects that required me to start from a MONO perspective. Once that center has been balanced out ... only then could I listen to the stereo sides [so not to confuse ... I've done plenty of Mastering of Live Recording/performances]. Yet the concept still holds.

As for Delays and Reverbs, there are plenty examples of different use and placement. Used effectively can create a sense of space, depth, size. That is part of the Art
of Recording and Mixing.

keep listening/comparing to References. This is what we all do to learn.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #22
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Are you looking to sound more like the refs you posted because that's what you fee; you need to compete? Or because you love how they sound?
Old 4 weeks ago
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ruairi View Post
Are you looking to sound more like the refs you posted because that's what you fee; you need to compete? Or because you love how they sound?
Both but I really do like the way they sound. I get beat up on gs for liking pop that’s super compressed and standard pop vocals but I like this sound for sure.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #24
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Back to the question about the low end. Does anyone have any ideas on what’s happing?

- why this sides show low end When we know the instrumentation shouldn’t be down there?

- why does the low end shift LR when the kick and bass are mono?
Old 4 weeks ago
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DAH View Post
just a quick try on this, have I caught your intentions right?
DAH,

You accomplished what I was asking about. I loaded your master and ab it vs mine. You have way more mids and low mids in the sides. You tamed the harsh center. I need to know the details on what made your master have low end in the sides when I solo (pic my blue v yours orange).

And more importantly, what did you do to the 60hz and under that makes the Stereo image meter vary left and right vs mine being 100% centered?


Edit after messing with my master.

When I increase the side volume and add some low end in the sides and make the stereo field wider, this is when the low end starts to move. So that makes sense. I wouldn’t see this on a mix, especially if the levels are low. I feel better.

I tried to copy your eq curves and compression. I did some ms compression and a lot of ms eq to get mine close to yours. Your dynamic range is more compressed so I think you just compressed more than I am. I am using 1.5 db on the shadow hills class a plug in and 1 dB on the spl iron plug in. I also inserted a puig child waves Fairchild to increase the side gain and that made the mix thicker.


My settings

Shadow hill

V3 eq where I copied your curve in the mid and tried to tame the side highs

Spl iron I wanted to compress more

Puig child I wanted to increase the side. See how much I had to go with the threshold just to get the needle moving.

Xl2 because I’m referencing back and forth along the way. I wanted to add harmonics in the low mids and sides.

V3 another. This was because your kick was more punchy than mine. I can’t get my kick to sound as punch and dimensional or depth as yours but tried. Also smoothed our some vox and drum highs

V3 another 3rd time. This was final edits to match. I had to scoop 2.3db at 230hz wide bc my master was muddy vs yours. Also tamed the vox in the 2.75k range. Then on sides I tried to tame the harshness that was still there.

Ozone. Just used the limiter.

This got me close. Not great but close. Im still not getting my kick to sound like yours or my bottom end to be as full. The more I increase my lows, the more muddy it gets vs full. Why is that?

And I feel like I did a lot of eq work but my master is still not as full but also kind of harsh. With all the eq I did at the top end its still happening.

Here is my attempt to copy that master and pics of plug in settings. I am learning a ton here, thanks to everyone. Im not trying to be a mastering engineer but what I am learning will help me in mixing.
Attached Thumbnails
Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-e1001dde-776a-4208-8169-8585030c19fe.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-45abef0d-fd21-4eb3-9bf9-956053ba793f.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-112dc648-e664-411e-b809-c3bc85759e4b.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-e9ecd5df-d46b-470d-9fad-0733650c6f98.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-a2802c7c-bd7e-46f8-bcc6-c60c4591a635.jpg  

Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-a7234487-c938-4bfe-bd69-1c739d0d3d61.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-609bf17a-17dd-4e10-89e6-3231543fef31.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-85054bf1-5556-437f-b32b-b60571ab5721.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-8aa14c17-5f59-4b70-81c4-b1dac8d465c0.jpg   Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-79e90d31-fba7-4ca0-a67a-a2e418af83fe.jpg  

Attached Files

Backroads 4-23-3b .mp3 (7.40 MB, 156 views)


Last edited by cap217; 4 weeks ago at 08:38 PM..
Old 4 weeks ago
  #26
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by cap217 View Post
Both but I really do like the way they sound. I get beat up on gs for liking pop that’s super compressed and standard pop vocals but I like this sound for sure.
Pay zero attention to other people's opinion of what excites you in music! (Including me).

As an example I think the refs you provide sound dreadful, I would say honestly say unlistenable in the mastering room. To me they sound like everything that is wrong with modern country.

My comments above notwithstanding I think you're going about this the wrong way ... just looking at that list of plug ins you posted below made my eyes glaze over. MS on the master bus is not the way to get where you want to go. MS is a tool mastering engineers use because we have to sometimes, and it's a trade off (it can really damage stereo information).

If you want more lows in the sides then pan things with more lows to the sides! You have complete control of the source material, that's the place to make changes.
Old 4 weeks ago
  #27
DAH
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Sorry, I do not go by numbers or goniometer/spectrum analyzer pictures anymore, since many moons ago.
I go by sound. You just have to have quite a linearly going (no drastic dips/peaks) monitoring, know it very well and know the tools - q of an eq, attack, ratio, release of a compressor.
You must be able to trust the sound you hear off your monitoring chain. And the chain better play down to 30- Hz to hear at least abnormalities down there.
I did nothing to the lows under 60 specifically, it was MS, EQing in two bands with hyperwide bells and a superlight compression. The movement in the lows may be caused by anything in your sides, probably close to the center in the original mix, but widened in my file.
I will send the screenshot tomorrow, but this will not help much. Nothing will, besides your own experience.
Last, but not least, I find phrasing like "I need to know ...." to be somehow inconclusive for an elaboration post to be made, when a colleague at GS shares his/her aid version. Liked it? Ok, great. Teaching or explaining is not my strong side, especially not free of charge.
Look, can you explain your 17 years of experience in one or ten posts? I cannot. Especially, other colleague's plug-ins I have not used.
I mean, it all boils down to:
1) hear the difference
2) be able to move A to B (understand what has to be done and be able to do it without lot of guessing about the instruments)
3) your work translates in the outer world (your monitoring + your brain)

Attached Thumbnails
Asking Input from Mastering Engineers-doingsiz.jpg  

Last edited by DAH; 4 weeks ago at 11:08 PM..
Old 4 weeks ago
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DAH View Post
Sorry, I do not go by numbers or goniometer/spectrum analyzer pictures anymore, since many moons ago.
I go by sound. You just have to have quite a linearly going (no drastic dips/peaks) monitoring, know it very well and know the tools - q of an eq, attack, ratio, release of a compressor.
You must be able to trust the sound you hear off your monitoring chain. And the chain better play down to 30- Hz to hear at least abnormalities down there.
I did nothing to the lows under 60 specifically, it was MS, EQing in two bands with hyperwide bells and a superlight compression. The movement in the lows may be caused by anything in your sides, probably close to the center in the original mix, but widened in my file.
I will send the screenshot tomorrow, but this will not help much. Nothing will, besides your own experience.
Last, but not least, I find phrasing like "I need to know ...." to be somehow inconclusive for an elaboration post to be made, when a colleague at GS shares his/her aid version. Liked it? Ok, great. Teaching or explaining is not my strong side, especially not free of charge.
Look, can you explain your 17 years of experience in one or ten posts? I cannot. Especially, other colleague's plug-ins I have not used.
I mean, it all boils down to:
1) hear the difference
2) be able to move A to B (understand what has to be done and be able to do it without lot of guessing about the instruments)
3) your work translates in the outer world (your monitoring + your brain)

I’ve learned a lot and this has been helpful. The m level and s width settings you showed help me understand. I was worried that 130% was too much when I was doing my version. I’m glad I started this thread. I was hesitant but you guys have been great. Thanks.
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