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I just lost a mix contest because of TOO MUCH dynamic range! Modular Synthesizers
Old 1 week ago
  #1
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I just lost a mix contest because of TOO MUCH dynamic range!

Hey all - I just need to "vent" to my friends here on Gearslutz. We talk a lot about the loudness wars and it seems it's a losing battle.

I entered a Christmas song mixing contest of a big production tune back before the holidays. I worked very hard on every detail of every track to maintain the full dynamic range of the recording. It DESERVES it.

I just found out that my mix did not make the top 10 because of one main reason - TOO MUCH DYNAMIC RANGE!

The comment was: "The main issues I am hearing with this is the volume difference between the loud and the quiet parts of the song. When I checked the forth verse and the following chorus, the difference was about 12 db. I would work on bringing the volumes closer together. Not eliminating the difference by any means, but rather reducing the difference."

I'm dumbfounded! A song like this REQUIRES a big dynamic range with a huge crescendo at the end. Furthermore the contest instructions said it was not to be mastered - and this seems to be a mastering issue!

Here's a link to the track. Any comments appreciated.

MC39 - Alan Craig - The Night When Christ Was Born - Fender19.wav - Google Drive
Old 1 week ago
  #2
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I.R.Baboon's Avatar
Welcome to the real world!

Mix sounds nice.......but you could start by just turning it up 4dB, there's too much headroom. I agree with the judges about the dynamic range in the sense that this isn't a commercial mix. The difference is too big. Sure, it'll sound great in a mastering studio on fancy speakers, but at lower volume in consumer situations, the verses will sound too distant.

My experience is: when someone says something isn't mastered or shouldn't be mastered, you need to ask: who is making that statement? What do they know and what do they consider "mastering"?

You could, for example, master it completely, then back the limiter down by 1 dB, and say "it's not mastered". Who's to argue? Perhaps that's your mixing style?

Just some random thoughts!
Old 1 week ago
  #3
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

There's a mix contest once or twice a year on a site GS won't let me mention. The final judge is a famous mixer with his own Youtube interview show. Every time, the winning mix is louder than #v <k with no discernible dynamic range.
Old 1 week ago
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
There's a mix contest once or twice a year on a site GS won't let me mention. The final judge is a famous mixer with his own Youtube interview show. Every time, the winning mix is louder than #v <k with no discernible dynamic range.
I know who you're talking about and I agree. I don't get it at all.
Old 1 week ago
  #5
You gave yourself the answer yourself.
"TOO"is the problem,"much"would have been enough
Old 1 week ago
  #6
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Yeah this is a game you'll learn the hard way. Always err on the side of sounding commercial even if it comes at the expense of some quality.
Old 1 week ago
  #7
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Hermetech Mastering's Avatar
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Synonym Music View Post
Yeah this is a game you'll learn the hard way. Always err on the side of sounding commercial even if it comes at the expense of some quality.
I get you, but playing angel's advocate here, isn't that just a race to the bottom and sacrificing one's integrity?
Old 1 week ago
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hermetech Mastering View Post
I get you, but playing angel's advocate here, isn't that just a race to the bottom and sacrificing one's integrity?
Welcome to the wonderful world of "commercial" mastering. I guess if you can't beat them then you have to join them.
Old 1 week ago
  #9
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Originally Posted by Hermetech Mastering View Post
I get you, but playing angel's advocate here, isn't that just a race to the bottom and sacrificing one's integrity?
Yes but that's the way it is. We're in a music world where bending over backwards and out-loudening, out-widening the next guy is standard practice. There are tasteful limits, it's just those have become extreme.

I only mix and even I'm clipping a Hilo to get a ref. When someone's asking for a product and they're not a mastering engineer, then they want it mastered and in line with everything else out there. They pay special attention to this before everything else, and let's be honest, it's a little jarring when something's a tad quiet and 100 other mixes aren't. Other people will lower the standards for you (in the worst possible way).
Old 1 week ago
  #10
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b0se's Avatar
Very well arranged song. Really enjoyed your mix, only comment being the lead vocal gets drowned out when the panned organ kicks in. I understand that's there for power—and it certainly delivers!—but I'd love to hear that delicious sounding vocal cut through and carry the chorus.

With regards to DR, Chevaliers De Sangreal (Zimmer)...



The amount of times I've turned that up at the start and have been blasted (but loved it) at the end. Volume is part of the emotional control. If the mix competition was related to commercial release (read: loud), then you can understand why it didn't win. As a standalone mix for playback, big thumbs up from me. All depends on the playback circumstances!

Last edited by b0se; 1 week ago at 01:36 PM..
Old 1 week ago
  #11
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I don't think it's too dynamic. A good mix, though I agree with b0se's comment regarding the lead vocal in the choruses.
Old 1 week ago
  #12
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I do think it's too dynamic, especially the very first lead vocal line sounds unnaturally low in volume considering what came just before it. It's not just about volume itself but the fact that the organ is very shrill/sharp which adds to the perception of loudness.. then the vocals come in at a much lower and much more muted sounding overall timbre.

It feels a bit like a sudden cut in a movie where one scene is super bright with high contrast that then cuts into something that has muted colors and low contrast. The brain doesn't have time to adapt.

Possible solutions if you want to keep the dynamic range.

1) Subtly automate a lowpass filter in the previous section.. something like 10 to 15 seconds before the vocals you should be slowly cutting away high frequency detail so that the change to the vocals isn't as sudden an unnatural.

2) Don't blast the organ and other sharp things at full tilt in the first section, allow the brain to adapt to the type of dynamic mix you want to create but take care in not over doing it at the very start.

Overall the mix is fine, the only real issue of frequency response is in the beginning (way too much stuff at around 2 to 3kHz. I feel like the judges may have based almost all of their decision on the very first part of the song due to this.. they probably made up their mind in the first 45 seconds.
Old 1 week ago
  #13
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Originally Posted by bmanic View Post
I do think it's too dynamic, especially the very first lead vocal line sounds unnaturally low in volume considering what came just before it. It's not just about volume itself but the fact that the organ is very shrill/sharp which adds to the perception of loudness.. then the vocals come in at a much lower and much more muted sounding overall timbre.

It feels a bit like a sudden cut in a movie where one scene is super bright with high contrast that then cuts into something that has muted colors and low contrast. The brain doesn't have time to adapt.

Possible solutions if you want to keep the dynamic range.

1) Subtly automate a lowpass filter in the previous section.. something like 10 to 15 seconds before the vocals you should be slowly cutting away high frequency detail so that the change to the vocals isn't as sudden an unnatural.

2) Don't blast the organ and other sharp things at full tilt in the first section, allow the brain to adapt to the type of dynamic mix you want to create but take care in not over doing it at the very start.

Overall the mix is fine, the only real issue of frequency response is in the beginning (way too much stuff at around 2 to 3kHz. I feel like the judges may have based almost all of their decision on the very first part of the song due to this.. they probably made up their mind in the first 45 seconds.
Very good - I appreciate the input. Next time I will do better.

Thanks everyone!
Old 1 week ago
  #14
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Greg Reierson's Avatar
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Synonym Music View Post
Yeah this is a game you'll learn the hard way. Always err on the side of sounding commercial even if it comes at the expense of some quality.
Master for the audience. If it's audiophile, hands off the dynamics. If it's pop, whatever the kids want. And there is a world or options in between. Part of the art.
Old 1 week ago
  #15
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Brent Hahn's Avatar
 

Main thing for me about OP's mix was that there were a couple of times I wanted to reach for the volume control. Took me out of the moment. In that sense, the judges' comment was dead on.
Old 1 week ago
  #16
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One last question for the MEs who commented above: If I had sent this mix to you for mastering would you have sent it back to be remixed - or would you have addressed the dynamics and "fixed" it?
Old 1 week ago
  #17
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Originally Posted by Greg Reierson View Post
Master for the audience. If it's audiophile, hands off the dynamics. If it's pop, whatever the kids want. And there is a world or options in between. Part of the art.
Right, and the audience clearly doesn't want filmic dynamics. For contests, with some exceptions, I would err towards a lower dynamic range.
Old 1 week ago
  #18
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Originally Posted by Synonym Music View Post
Right, and the audience clearly doesn't want filmic dynamics.
Why is that clear? This is a cinematic tune, not a pop tune.
Old 1 week ago
  #19
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Originally Posted by Nonlinear View Post
Why is that clear? This is a cinematic tune, not a pop tune.
"Filmic dynamics" are fine in a movie theater where the sound is supporting the visual. Not so fine when the sound is the whole ballgame and it goes back and forth between too soft and too loud.

Sit someone down in front of your mix in a place where they can reach the volume knob. If they can listen to the whole thing without reaching for that knob, you're right and the judges are wrong and we should all shut up.
Old 1 week ago
  #20
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Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
Sit someone down in front of your mix in a place where they can reach the volume knob. If they can listen to the whole thing without reaching for that knob, you're right and the judges are wrong and we should all shut up.
Whoa - chill dude! I'm just trying to understand how much is too much. I have some Celine Dion CDs that are just as dynamic - if not more so.
Old 1 week ago
  #21
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Originally Posted by Nonlinear View Post
Whoa - chill dude! I'm just trying to understand how much is too much.
Well, in terms of that contest, where the judges were hearing other mixes that were loud as hell and flat as a pancake, now you know.

Quote:
I have some Celine Dion CDs that are just as dynamic - if not more so.
I have all sorts of very dynamic yet successful CD's, many of them dating back to when digital was new and increased dynamic range was considered a feature.

But in the context of a contest like that one in the present day, Celine would lose, too.
Old 1 week ago
  #22
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Originally Posted by Nonlinear View Post
One last question for the MEs who commented above: If I had sent this mix to you for mastering would you have sent it back to be remixed - or would you have addressed the dynamics and "fixed" it?
The mix was perfectly fine, even bordering on "really good". I'd have no problems at all dealing with it in the mastering stage, doing probably what I described in my previous post (except I wouldn't automate a LPF, instead I'd probably automate a shelf or a broad bell at the most suitable frequencies to tie the intro into the first verse.

I'd also write some very basic and subtle volume automation over the whole track to make the macro dynamics slightly less drastic.. but if your wish as a client would be to keep the dynamics I'd have no problem at all doing so. I think balancing the frequencies going from one section to another would be enough to not make the ear too irritated at the differences in volume.

There are other ways of keeping a psychoacustic perception of dynamics though, instead of keeping volume as the only measure.. so I would perhaps do that instead of keeping the massive amplitude differences.

Cheers!
Old 1 week ago
  #23
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Originally Posted by bmanic View Post
The mix was perfectly fine, even bordering on "really good". I'd have no problems at all dealing with it in the mastering stage, doing probably what I described in my previous post (except I wouldn't automate a LPF, instead I'd probably automate a shelf or a broad bell at the most suitable frequencies to tie the intro into the first verse.

I'd also write some very basic and subtle volume automation over the whole track to make the macro dynamics slightly less drastic.. but if your wish as a client would be to keep the dynamics I'd have no problem at all doing so. I think balancing the frequencies going from one section to another would be enough to not make the ear too irritated at the differences in volume.

There are other ways of keeping a psychoacustic perception of dynamics though, instead of keeping volume as the only measure.. so I would perhaps do that instead of keeping the massive amplitude differences.

Cheers!
Thank you for the feedback and the pointers.

When I work on mixes for-hire I typically bounce my final mix off my ME for his feedback. I don't do that in contests because it feels like "cheating". This illustrates the importance of having mixing and mastering conducted by two different sets of ears. It really helps.

Last edited by Nonlinear; 1 week ago at 09:39 PM..
Old 1 week ago
  #24
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If you have any audio-critical friends they can be equally valuable for feedback. Just make sure they aren't being "too nice" and actually speak their mind (not really a problem here in Finland as I find most people do speak their mind but I know in other cultures being too polite and friendly can be an issue among friends).

But yeah, having an established relationship between a mastering and mixing engineer can be very beneficial indeed, especially during crunch time / high-stress /long hour situations.
Old 1 week ago
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bmanic View Post
There are other ways of keeping a psychoacustic perception of dynamics though, instead of keeping volume as the only measure.. so I would perhaps do that instead of keeping the massive amplitude differences.
That's an intriguing paragraph! Without volume for back/front placement, are you talking of using compression for focus perception, or the relationship between the arrangement elements?
Old 1 week ago
  #26
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I'm talking about "intensity" which can be achieved in multiple ways. For me it's usually a parallel bus that I automate.. either hardware or software.

Basically something that isn't exactly polite and creates quite a bit of harmonic distortion. I then EQ this so that the area is focusing on whatever I want to intensify. In a vocal it would be 2 to 5kHz, depending on the performer and song. I then simply automate this parallel track to create excitement and a feeling of movement while I can nail the "original" audio into place and kill a lot of it's dynamics. Heck if you are lazy you could probably use the original track audio to "ride" the parallel tracks volume.

This results in a psychoacustic effect.. sort of "fake" macro dynamics.

This is actually something that seems to happen quite naturally in a lot of various hardware when you find the "sweetspot", or the "corner" where it goes from polite to slightly strained/edgy. This means that loud passages will get slightly naturally compressed by the electronics while the harmonic distortion goes drastically up. Thus creating the illusion of movement/excitement and dynamics.

Another way that I've found to work is to have a quite fast but very program dependent upwards expander.. and set it so that it moves between a range of about 1 to 2dB. Then this expander is mixed in parallel with the original that is automated/compressed to constrain the macro dynamics of the track. For some weird reason it will make the track sound like it has more dynamics than it actually has. Not sure what is causing this phenomenon though.. could be that my algorithm is creating a fair amount of harmonics. I haven't analyzed it all that much yet but the ideas and results seem very promising. Making it user friendly though is a whole other ballgame.
Old 1 week ago
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brent Hahn View Post
There's a mix contest once or twice a year on a site GS won't let me mention. The final judge is a famous mixer with his own Youtube interview show. Every time, the winning mix is louder than #v <k with no discernible dynamic range.
What do you mean GS won't let you mention it?
Old 1 week ago
  #28
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Originally Posted by creegstor View Post
What do you mean GS won't let you mention it?
i don't remember the exact context, but there was an ongoing GS thread where this other site's mix contest would have, I thought, informed the discussion. But linking to it or even mentioning it may have been a violation of the GS T&C, so I proactively PM'ed a couple GS mods to get a read on it and one of them came back saying that they considered the other site to be a competitor and the mention and the link wouldn't be allowed.

Last edited by Brent Hahn; 1 week ago at 06:48 PM..
Old 1 week ago
  #29
not unusual for mixing contest to have your file mastered prior to upload, at least it will be as loud as the rest but retaining a good punch (: (: (: .... 2018
Old 1 week ago
  #30
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Originally Posted by alex-p View Post
not unusual for mixing contest to have your file mastered prior to upload, at least it will be as loud as the rest but retaining a good punch (: (: (: .... 2018
Or at least I could have put a parallel comp on the 2-bus!

LOL. I'm good. This was supposed to be a "mixing" contest with no mastering. I was trying to make it "epic". Balance and composition should have been the main criteria but - as we all know - loudness is certainly a factor in how it's received.

Yeah, maybe next time I will "cheat " a little.
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