Regarding Creating Dungeon Synth Feb 26, 2020 4:48:42 GMT -5
Post by imp on Feb 26, 2020 4:48:42 GMT -5
Here's a couple of helpful starters. I will try to order my thoughts according to my process.
1. Gain staging. Be mindful of your gain at all stages. Record with low enough gain (-12db is a popular threshold for example) so that you will preserve maximum dynamic range and won't clip your stuff. You can squash and distort it later if you want to. This is considering digital stuff. If you are using analog gear, you might want to drive it on purpose. Just don't clip your DAW, your sound card inputs etc. Digital clipping sounds like shit and not in a good way. If you follow this rule of thumb you will have a lot less problems in the mixing stage.
2. The first thing I like to do is clean up the individual sounds. I usually start from the "main" sound that feels dominant in the song. Usually there's some bass rumble that sounds bad, maybe muddiness in the 200-300hz department, with FM synths especially I often get very high and loud squeal kind of sounds in the treble. I usually start by fixing these with and EQ. Remember that even if a sound is good on its own it doesn't mean it will sound good in the mix. Think of sounds as layers that need to give room to each other. Usually a huge sounding individual track will smother everything else. A very common thing in metal music for example is that guitarists crank their low end because they want to sound huge. They might be used to this while practicing on their own. The problem is that the bass and guitar (and bass drum most likely) will be competing in the low frequency territory and there's no way in hell you can make all of them sound good at the same time if they are all blasting on same frequencies. Usually you just won't hear any bass unless you crank the mids of the bass amp and this is when it starts to overrun the guitar and everything is just one big mess. There are more advanced techniques to make room for adjacent tracks like volume ducking / side chaining but don't worry about these for now. When you feel confident in your basic mixing capabilities you might want to look into these so keep them in the back of your head. This being said there is nothing wrong with blasting an absolutely massive track of synth and then working your song around that. Just remember this mindset when you start mixing because if your mix is muddy, messy and you can't get your sounds to cut through, this is probably the reason.
3. While mixing only set the relative volume levels right, don't worry about the mix being loud enough, that stuff is for mastering. If your master bus is clipping, lower everything down so you have headroom for mastering. You don't want your mix to be too loud at this point. It won't help anything.
A good way to find the right level for each track is to slowly move the fader up until you're certain it's too loud and then lower it until it's definitely too quiet. This gives you two points of reference and you'll now know that the right spot is somewhere in between these spots.
4. MIX QUIET! This is very important. If you are blasting your speakers you will get the illusion of everything sounding amazing. Try to mix on quiet volume levels so you can realistically hear everything and set the relative volume levels there. If your mix is bad, it will sound bad while playing it quiet and you will also protect your hearing. It is good to check the mix on loud volumes on occasion but don't take a habit of blasting your speakers while in mix down mode. The psychological effect of loudness will only cloud your judgement.
5. Mix in mono as far as possible. This one is up for debate but I feel it has helped me a lot and I got the tip from a pro. It is in my opinion good to try to get your mix as right as possible in mono and do all of the panning and the finishing touches your tracks might need while panned last. Panning your sounds might give you the illusion of tracks sitting right in the mix because they get sort of "separated" but in some cases it's also a cop out and the mix might end up messy and confusing. I feel you can get a more dynamic and breathable mix if you fix your problems in mono and then pan only to get the stereo image you want.
6. Get to know your speakers. Listen to a lot of stuff on your speakers and maybe compare them to some others. See how they differ compared to some other speakers in their sound. Once you know their sound you'll do better mixing on them.
7. Use many speakers for reference if possible. This is especially true if you have consumer grade headphones or speakers that aren't flat in their frequency response. They will over emphasize some frequencies and soften some to make your music seem more exciting. The problem is they will lie to you. Everybody's speakers sound different and it's very difficult to judge how they will sound on anything else. This is why it's good to check your mix on multiple speakers. In the end the same applies for flat studio speakers because most people won't be using those for listening to your stuff so it's not much use if your mix sounds bad on their speakers. In the end most people have rooms that sound like crap, some use cheap earbuds, laptop speaker etc. so you can't account for everything. This is why it's best to check with multiple speakers and try to get it to work with all of them. This is why many studio guys do the "car test" where they take the mix or master to their car and play it there. If it sounds like shit in the car and great in their studio, it's probably not a very good mix after all.
So mix on the speakers you know but check on others when you feel your mix is done and see if you can hear something that you need to go back and fix.
8. Do not alter anything you don't think needs to be altered. If something sounds good as it is then just leave it alone. There's no reason to compress and EQ everything just because somebody else does that. Just listen and trust your ears. In the beginning you might want to muck around with stuff just to see what happens but once you get the hang of it it's usually better to go with your gut and commit to your choices. Otherwise you will have a hard time finishing anything.
9. When your mix is done you probably need to get it loud enough so it's time for mastering. Many people say they don't do mastering at all in diy music scenes but they still set their loudness right and thus... master it. Mastering is when your mix is right and you will do the final touches you might need necessary. Some might use a subtle compressor to "glue the tracks together" and make the whole package sound cohesive. Some might throw and eq on the master bus to tweak the overall sound just a tiny bit. But the most important part is to set the loudness right and this is where you'll most likely use a limiter. Compressor is not the right way to set your loudness right because it will squash your dynamics at the same time. These are two separate steps. This being said you can get your perceived loudness higher by squashing the shit out of your music and making it sound like shit but hopefully you don't want to do that. Just don't worry about any of that nonsense. Use compressor for compression if you need it. The most important thing is that even when getting your mix loud don't clip it in the master bus. I usually compare my master to the stuff I've done before or an album I like and feel sounds right in the loudness department and use that as a reference. Nowadays loudness doesn't matter that much and even in the pop world the loudness war is old news. Nobody cares.
Except for the EDM crowd. They are still crazy.
Now if you read all this forget everything I said and just do it. The most important part is to just get it done and don't fuss over the details. You will learn along the way and find a process that works for you.
Every time I've tried using compression I've always regretted it, but that's probably because I don't know how to use it properly. Is compression even necessary? It seems like its only real purpose is to boost stuff as loud as possible, but that loudness war stuff has no place in DS imo. If there are peaks preventing you from boosting the volume to a reasonable level without clipping, go back and fix it in the mixing stage. Compression can really kill the dynamics of a song if you don't know what you're doing and apply it to the entire mix.
Know that I mean absolutely no disrespect when I say this but I feel this is one of the most common misconceptions in music production. Compressors are a very versatile and valuable tool that can be used in any form of music. You can actually make stuff appear more dynamic with a compressor by playing around with the settings. A good example is emphasizing the transient "crack" of a snare drum with a slow attack time. The transient goes through unaltered but the peaks after the transient get trimmed down thus making the crack seem louder and make the snare drum more in your face. You can also side chain a compressor so that your bass track will automatically lower it's volume every time the bass drum hits to make room for the bass drum to be heard better and make the drums "pump." This is called volume ducking. You can also color your sound by driving a certain type of analog compressors hard.
There are a million ways you can use a compressor but you are absolutely correct when you say that you can kill the dynamics with it if you don't know what you are doing. Compressors are probably the hardest aspect of music production to get a grasp of. I'm by no means an expert and I have a LOT to learn about compression but I've experienced some moments of enlightenment with them, understand the basic concepts and use them regularly. I would say that if you don't hear any benefit while trying out compression then just leave it be.
Now to answer your question about compression being necessary. No, not in this kind of music in my opinion. Especially not with synthesizers. Synths don't usually have enough dynamic range that it would make any sense to compress it any further. I use compression in my synth music very sparingly if at all. I might throw a compressor on percussive sounds and maybe just a tiny bit on the whole mix but just maybe. The situation is very different if we are mixing rock music with drums and vocals for example. That's where you will be relying on compression to get it right. All the classic 70's albums we love (well I do at least) are compressed. Distortion is a form of compression. Driving a cassette recorder hard is compression and thus the classic gritty and charming tape releases we love are often very compressed. Well you probably get where I'm coming from.
There's no need to make compression an enemy. I feel like compression gets a bad rap because of the whole loudness war nonsense. That being said if you don't need it then you don't and it makes just as little sense to use one just because.
Wow, didn't expect anything this thorough. Bought your album to say thanks. I'm just starting with a few new songs and I'll definitely reference your advice.
I gotta say, people on this forum are really helpful and friendly. Glad I found my way here.