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Mixing/mastering classical music - advice. :) Virtual Instrument Plugins
Old 20th August 2007
Here for the gear

Mixing/mastering classical music - advice. :)

Hi Group,

I'm typically an electronic producer, but now I'm involved in a collaboration with a classical composer. The final piece will be ~45 minutes long and will feature parts that are full-range and lean more towards electronics and other sections that will be mostly strings/choir. The overall piece has a lot of dynamics, some sections very quiet and delicate and others quite loud, with subs, etc. This is more dynamics than I'm used to mixing.

My question is this. Should I find my loudest moment in the music, set that to not clip, and just go from there? Or should I use a really smooth compressor/limiter to control the loud bits. The piece will be played in a concert hall (with good sound) and also be released on CD. Should I do a separate mix for CD? Basically I'm looking for advice and tips on how classical engineers mix stuff with lots of dynamics.

Thanks a ton.
Old 20th August 2007
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MASSIVE Master's Avatar

Verified Member
I try to keep classical dynamics pretty much intact, but I've also been known to "gently" tame the dynamics on occasion (perhaps using something less "invasive" like a parallel mult).

But in any case, do what serves the recording.
Old 20th August 2007
Gear Head
Alpha Bob's Avatar

Just try your best to keep it as real as possible. There's no need to add any processing just for the sake of it. But if some sections need a bit of help then that's no problem either.
Listen to some classical CDs & get a feel of the 'sound'.
There's no real need (imo) to do a seperate mix for the concert & CD. If you mix it well in the 1st place it'll sound good in both mediums.

Old 20th August 2007
Gear Guru
Thomas W. Bethe's Avatar

Verified Member
I would not put a compressor across the two track mix.

Much of what makes classical music enjoyable to listen to is the dynamic contrast that is part of the music. Strapping a compressor across the mix brings up the lower levels and squashes the upper levels if it is not done correctly.

I like your idea of setting the highest peaks to something like -1 dBFS and let the rest of the piece ride where it will.

I just did a recording of three Beethoven Piano sonatas and as you probably know they are very dynamic so I did what you are suggesting and the pianist was very pleased.

I have been a classical recording engineer for 38 years and a classical mastering engineer for 12. I try very hard NOT to mess with the dynamics if I can help it.

Lately even the classical musicians are worried about having their material sound good in cars and we have done some manual gain riding ( the least offensive way to go) to make the lowest material sound more full when listened to in a car. I still have not had to strap a compressor across the two track mix but who knows what the future will bring...your stuff sounds interesting and I will be interested to see what you do with it.

Best of luck and let us know what you finally decide to do.
Old 20th August 2007
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Alécio Costa's Avatar

Verified Member
I have seen classical mastering levels climbing the mountain considerably.

I have mastered a few classical cds and yes, try to keep dynamics as much as possible. very little limiting and a bit of reverb. Some subtrative Eq for weird bumps if room has anomalies and that is all.

Special care to fades and spacing.
Old 20th August 2007
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lucey's Avatar

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Like anything it's up to the client, yet I'd default to no dynamic changes and just a sweet eq.
Old 20th August 2007
Lives for gear

I try to keep the dynamics as true as possible, but that being said, we now live in an MP3/Rock music world. The number of people that complain about levels to me (not being high enough) is growing by the day. Heck, I cut a piano trio master at K14 once and had the client screaming for more. Usually, though, it is the folks complaining that their master is distorting in their car. When I ask questions, I find they turned it all the way up for the quiet sections and then the loud distorts. Go figure!

Anyways, it also sounds like your project is not a purist classical kind of thing from what you are describing. In that case, all bets are off. Trying to make the electronics work with the rest of the music may be difficult (depending on how the music is written and orchestrated).

I generally try to avoid use of anything more than a couple dB of limiting and normalization. If less dynamic contrast is needed, I'll usually manually adjust the soft sections louder. To do this, I usually will insert linear crossfades that are several seconds long and have them counteract the natural dynamics of the music. (ie, if the music is getting softer, I'll insert the fade there and then raise the soft section by a few dB, bringing it back down at the next major increase in dynamics). The manual manipulation of dynamics will be your most transparent by far.

Old 20th August 2007
Gear Head

Control this way....

I have done hundreds of classical CD's and what you need to do is let the dynamics ride. But, pending on how it was recorded - you could get too quiet for CD. You have two obligations here - one to the live audience, and one to the CD listener who will be in any environment.

- For the live application, just find your peak and let the true dynamics run. The house engineer will adjust if it needs gain. This is especially true if they are performing an electroacoustic piece.

- For the CD, evaluate if the pianissimo sections are just to quiet for any listening situation (excluding a car). If this is true, bring them up by incorpoating GENTLE gain changes with the music. This way the gain ride sounds natural. Sometimes, you may need to do a quick drop (less than a second) on peaks because high freq. information peaked +5 over the true peak (tympani is famous for this).

In the end, never add auto dynamic control. The only time is if your client wants it (talk them out of it), or it is going to a film house - but then they would want control of dynamics just as a mastering engineer wants mixes uncompressed.

Best of luck.
Old 20th August 2007
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lucey's Avatar

Verified Member
Originally Posted by fifthcircle View Post
I'll insert the fade there and then raise the soft section by a few dB, bringing it back down at the next major increase in dynamics). The manual manipulation of dynamics will be your most transparent by far.
+1 ... works well for many things
Old 21st August 2007
Here for the gear

Hi Everyone!

Thank you all for your comments. The advice is great. I think I'll just find my loudest level, set to not clip, and then ride levels of quite bits if I need to. Thanks for not letting me compress!

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