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Bizarre Collapse of Main Vocal Levels at Mastering Stage Utility Software
Old 9th January 2018
  #1
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Bizarre Collapse of Main Vocal Levels at Mastering Stage

I'm an amateur who records, mixes, and masters in my own home. I usually find the mastering process to be the easiest and most fun of the three processes, and I've gotten good results over the years. I mix and record entirely "in the box."

Today I had finished a mix and began the mastering process of applying buss compression, EQ, and loudness on the Master Buss. I was very happy with the mix itself -- it was tonally and dynamically well balanced.

I should note that the recording consists of two violins, two clarinets, a cello, a flute, a bassoon, and then a male vocal. Not exactly your standard pop fare; more like a modernist "art song," I guess.

I applied the compression and EQ plugins on the Master Buss and was very happy with what I heard. But when I applied the loudness/limiter plugin, Slate's FG-X, the vocals absolutely collapsed, to the point that they were barely audible in the mix. I tried other loudness/limiting plugins -- IK's Lurssen Mastering Console, Samplitude's Ammunition, and Sonnox's Inflator -- and got the same result: Collapsed, barely audible vocals.

I've mixed and recorded songs with only strings and woodwinds in the past and never had a problem, although I'd never recorded a vocal with exclusively "classical" instrumentation before. Obviously, with the type of instruments I had recorded and mixed, you don't push the LUFS level nearly as high as you do with most pop music. In this case the recording was actually a hybrid of classical and cabaret and art song, and so I was aiming for a level no higher than -18 LUFS. Not terribly loud, in other words.

Does anyone have an explanation for what happened, or a way to resolve this problem?

(Note: I did find a decent but ultimately unsatisfying work-around. I assigned all the instrument tracks to their own submix and applied FG-X to that buss, and then opened up a second FG-X instance on the vocal track. In other words, I applied two separate loudness plugins within the mix -- one to the instrument tracks and one to the vocal track -- and left the loudness plugin off the Master Buss.)

Last edited by blim; 9th January 2018 at 11:27 PM..
Old 10th January 2018
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Quote:
Originally Posted by blim View Post

(Note: I did find a decent but ultimately unsatisfying work-around. I assigned all the instrument tracks to their own submix and applied FG-X to that buss, and then opened up a second FG-X instance on the vocal track. In other words, I applied two separate loudness plugins within the mix -- one to the instrument tracks and one to the vocal track -- and left the loudness plugin off the Master Buss.)
How did that "workaround" Sound? If it achieved your goal maybe it wasn't a workaround.
Ed
Old 10th January 2018
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Originally Posted by ed littman View Post
How did that "workaround" Sound? If it achieved your goal maybe it wasn't a workaround.
It sounds OK, but a little "off." If I graded it, I'd give it a "C-."
Old 10th January 2018
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I can only imagine your buss limiter is set way to aggressive if it kills anything in the mix. A sparse mix can usually be perceived as louder anyway, so maybe you don't need as much processing. Usually less gets you more in these situations.
or even try clipping the master fader without the limiter. for some material that can sound better. if all of those still don't achieve your goal you'll have to rethink the mix or except that the mix you have will only go so loud & find the sweet spot.
Those types of judgments are what mastering is any way...not what your putting on the two bus.
Old 10th January 2018
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Originally Posted by ed littman View Post
I can only imagine your buss limiter is set way to aggressive if it kills anything in the mix. A sparse mix can usually be perceived as louder anyway, so maybe you don't need as much processing. Usually less gets you more in these situations.
or even try clipping the master fader without the limiter. for some material that can sound better. if all of those still don't achieve your goal you'll have to rethink the mix or except that the mix you have will only go so loud & find the sweet spot.
Those types of judgments are what mastering is any way...not what your putting on the two bus.
Those seem like good suggestions. I'm going to try all of them. Thanks.
Old 10th January 2018
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-18 LUFS shouldn't need a limiter. Certainly not very often if at all. That sort of music is almost impossible to measure accurately with a meter. I would go by ear. Find other music that measures -18LUFS, listen to it and get your ears used to the level, then toggle to your song. Match them by ear and you are there. Remember that you are matching CONTEXT, not SPL. Does that instrumentation make sense at that level compared to other music at that level.

Numerical measurements fail classical music.
Old 10th January 2018
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Ed and Greg --

I took into account what each of you wrote, and tried again, relying more on pushing up the faders than using a limiter, and there is a distinct improvement in the sound, while not losing any of the loudness. I'd grade the results at least a "C+." I'm going to continue to try to refine it, and I think I will be able to further improve the results. Your suggestions have really helped.
Old 10th January 2018
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Dumb question, maybe, but as far as panning goes, is the vocal the only thing that's right up the middle?
Old 10th January 2018
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Dumb question, maybe, but as far as panning goes, is the vocal the only thing that's right up the middle?
Here comes a can of Porn Beaks full of M/S ideas.
Old 10th January 2018
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Originally Posted by Karloff70 View Post
Here comes a can of Porn Beaks full of M/S ideas.
That's S&M ideas. Actually, I was just thinking that if the vocal's down the middle and everything else is lefty-righty and it seemed okay during mixing, there might be some sort of phase/polarity issue in the mastering chain.
Old 10th January 2018
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Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Dumb question, maybe, but as far as panning goes, is the vocal the only thing that's right up the middle?
Not a dumb question, and your instincts are correct: The vocal is, in fact, the only thing that's panned in the absolute middle.

I should probably add the following, however: The instrument tracks are all stereo files produced from a sample library (East-West Quantum Leap's Symphonic Orchestra), so they were already located in a particular place in the stereo sound field. I then panned most of them further in the direction toward which they were already located, in order to clear out more "room" for the vocals in the middle. I'm not sure if this might have been a factor in the "collapsed" vocal.
Old 10th January 2018
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
That's S&M ideas. Actually, I was just thinking that if the vocal's down the middle and everything else is lefty-righty and it seemed okay during mixing, there might be some sort of phase/polarity issue in the mastering chain.
That was my first thought as well, but then there was no talk of mono to make it disappear......hence enter the S/M ideas.

OP....could be worth trying to apply your loudness pushing in M/S on the whole thing. Would kind of be like doing the vocal separately, but not quite, still a little more 'togetherness' than separately how you did.
Old 11th January 2018
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You don’t accidentally have some stereo widening process happening, which brings up the volume of the sides?
Old 11th January 2018
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Originally Posted by nd33 View Post
You don’t accidentally have some stereo widening process happening, which brings up the volume of the sides?
I'm pretty sure that I don't.
Old 11th January 2018
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I reiterate what was said earlier.

On a more sparse mix(compared to standard pop/rock) digital brick wall limiters can really mangle and up root the mix.

Also another good point made above was that a more sparse mix will sound louder by nature. I find this to be true as well.

Every mix has an event horizon where things just start to fall apart. I think your work around is the right choice.

One thing you could try is stacking limiters instead of using just one to get your loudness. If you need +6DB, use three limiters gaining 2DB each. Sometimes that can be less intrusive.
Old 11th January 2018
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I suppose that in an arrangement that lacks drums or percussion, it’s likely the peaks of a mix will be in the vocal - so any master compression or limiting may be squashing the vocal first.
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