Dynamics vs. Volume: How does this clip sound?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by headchem, Mar 16, 2006.

  1. headchem

    headchem Guest

    I've been on a Radiohead, Hail to the Thief kick lately, and the mastering is very quiet, with excellent dynamics. So, I've been trying very hard to work with dynamics in my masters lately, while preserving loud volume. Here is the latest experiment at -9 dB RMS in the loud section. How dynamic or squished does this clip sound to everybody?

    1.4 Mb, 170 kbps (variable bit rate) 48 kHz

    Basically, I have no master compressor. All compression is done in the mixing stage via side-chain compressors. Does it work, or do I need to work more...

    I'll make a thread in the mixing forum asking for mix suggestions, so just stick to mastering dynamics here.
  2. pingu

    pingu Guest

    Then this is not really mastering then man.

    Your basiccally asking what we think of your applied compression during the mix.
  3. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I usually don't like to comment this way but your mix is a mess. Much too much clipping/over modulation. The opening sounds nice but that's about it. You are trying to make things louder than loud. STOP IT! Try creating a good mix first. And what is all this stuff about all of your compression and limiting in a side chain??? You are either limiting or compressing a signal, period! This side chain on a compressor or limiter is generally used with an equalizer to make the " detector" more or less sensitive to certain frequencies. For example: adding a substantial peak at around 5kHz with an equalizer on the side chain of a compressor/limiter, will make the compressor/limiter work harder around the 5kHz peak creating a basic "De-esser". You have tried to make everything so loud that I really cannot even enjoy the song. YOU ARE FAR FROM BEING A MASTERING ENGINEER BUT PERHAPS MORE LIKE A MASTURBATING ENGINEER?

    I think I will play with my vibrating microphone now
    Ms. Remy Ann David

    (My Electo-Voice 636 slimaire, gotta' love it)
  4. pr0gr4m

    pr0gr4m Well-Known Member

    It doesn't sound dynamic at all. Everything is at one far too loud level. It doesn't work.

    This begs the question, Why did you use compression? Did you use it because you needed to tame some transients? Did you use it to enhance the sound or did you use it because you think you should for some reason?

    What I'm getting at here is that you should have a reason for using compression and only use it where it's needed. You mention that you are trying to get a very dynamic sound. Compression kills dynamics. That's what it is designed to do. Sure, a bit here and there may be needed but the purpose of compression is to retard the dynamic range. So, if you are looking for a very dynamic recording, you probably only want to use a very small amount of compression.

    I would recommend that you mix the song without any compression and try to get the best mix and balance of sounds that you can.
    Then, if you have parts that are too loud or too soft, work in some fader automation before going to a compressor.
  5. headchem

    headchem Guest

    Cool, comments taken into acount. I'm definitely still working on the mix, and I'm waiting for a friend to send me some real drums and a real guitar part, to replace the computer versions. That said...

    pr0gr4m: I used compression because every rock song I hear has ridiculous compression on it. In these songs, every time a bass drum hits, my eardrums get sucked out of my ears. So I know the big dogs of mastering always use compression, and a lot of it. I'm only trying to emulate their sound, even though I think it sounds horrid. They're the best for a reason, right? However, I'm trying to acheive their level of volume without sucking my eardrums out, and I'm experimenting with alternative methods. Your advice is good, and I'll try something like it.

    My idea was to use sidechain compressors in the mix as a replacement for compressors on the master. For example, when the bass drum hits, the bass guitar is dipped in volume. The vocals use a multiband sidechain on the rest of the mix. When vocals are heavy in certain frequencies, those same frequencies are dipped in the rest of the mix before the vocals are addded on top. All an automatic process, of course. No fixed frequency dips.

    pingu: I know this isn't the usual way of making a mix, but I thought it might be a viable alternative. I'm discussing it in the mastering forums because I feel it blurs the line between mastering and mixing. I'm not yet convinced the traditional way is better (I know it's certainly not worse - I'm just experimenting). If dynamic range is to be reduced, I would think my proposed method would yield less pumping because it is not applied to the entire signal.

    I'm going to turn off all my mastering / sidechain stuff, and export this file as my full dynamics control. Then I will add my sidechain devices back, and tweak them until the dynamics sound similar to the control file - obviously with less overall dynamics, though. Then I'll add the mastering devices back, but I'll keep the volume fairly low and post the updated file here.

    RemyRAD: I'm not a ME in either sense of the abbreviation. First, I have a girlfriend, and second, real mastering engineers have to patrol forums as a way of flexing their egos. I'm just a guy trying to push the envelope and weed through all the self-righteous don't-even-try,-get-a-real-ME-to-do-it "helpfulness."

    I'm not trying to step on toes - just making that observation. I appreciate all the comments, and if I ever invent a new technique, you all will be the first to hear about it. Thanks for helping me experiment.
  6. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Ok, everyone. lets be civil.

    As far as compression for rock. you'd be surprised how little the ME compresses a rock mix, if at all.
  7. pr0gr4m

    pr0gr4m Well-Known Member

    While you are correct that compression can and is used to give sounds punch, I think you're going about it in the wrong way.

    I've never heard of anyone using "side chain" compression to the extent that you are using it...unless you are doing dance music where the kick drowns out the music.

    You don't want to do that sort of thing because then you'll just have all these sounds pumping up and down and it'll sound terrible.

    There are lots of discussions here regarding drums and compression and the different techniques used to get them to punch through a mix. But that compression is just applied to the drums. No side chaining. Look for those threads and try applying those techniques.
    For vocals, compression is normally used to level out the sound. You want it to blend in with the music...not have the music duck down around the vox.
  8. heathen22

    heathen22 Guest

    It sounds pretty wrong,absolutely no dynamics at all,try using slower attack times too so at least some transients get through to add punch. Loudness does'nt necessarilly come from squishing the crap out of everything, think of it like constipation the harder you squeeze the worse it feels. Loudness is achieced by mixing a song so the frequncy content is full range with every instrument placed into its spot also using correct compressor timings and ratios for the audio material being worked on.
    Some program material is just naturally loud and some isnt,I prefer to use automated gain riding when mixing as well as mild comp,using automation will help fill up a mix and keep your dynamics intact. Also keep your final mixes around no more than -5 dbfs peak -18 rms,this is the target.Take a mix like this to an ME and more often than not it will come back sounding superb. Mixes kept within this range with a good average program level Ie:mixed properly allows ME's to use eq and comp to boost levels significantly without compromising on dynamic loss. Once its overcompressed there is no going back.
    The main reason you hire an ME is for an objective opinion as they have never heard the mix before,where as you have hundreds of times,almost instanly they should be able to tell what is needed. Also they have the right tools,ie: each eq and comp will be at least $5000 worth of box,not $400 worth of softwarez.\
    I could go on but you get the picture,back to the "old drawing board". I think you need to improve your mixing skills and audio theory before you even attempt mastering. Remember too most mastering engineers have produced mixed and recorded a lot of albums before learning to master.

    Im not trying too be rude its just I think your starting to make the same mistakes all of us have made and you will learn from them. Save this mix you posted and listen to it in 5 years time,you'll look back and have a laugh,I could post my earliest mixes but id be too embarassed.

  9. headchem

    headchem Guest

    Good advice everyone! I took all the crazy side chain stuff off and it sounds a lot better now. And it's still fairly loud. I was skipping the mixing part, and trying to do everything in the mastering. Perhaps a negative side efffect of using Reason, is that I can mix while hearing the mastering. I usually have the mastering devices on while mixing, so maybe that's hindering a good mix.

    heathen22: When you suggest automated gain riding, do you mean for the entire mix, or for individual instruments in the various parts of a song? Also, I assume that "mixing a song so the frequency content is full range" just takes practice? Do you use any tools like a frequency analyzer to look for frequency gaps, and fill them in with EQ or gain adjustments of instruments in that frequency range?

    Can someone tell me some good rock mixes / masters to look into. Especially songs that don't use much master compression like Michael said. As always, thanks, and sorry about the ME jabs. The old playground comeback line...
  10. chance144

    chance144 Guest

    I don't have much to add, but I will add


    to challenge the assumption that

    If you havent read that thread (it is right at the top of the page), do it. It discusses, in no uncertain terms, how current mastering trends suck.
  11. Reggie

    Reggie Well-Known Member

    I know you're all about experimenting, but I would advise you to turn off your main-bus mastering devices while you are trying you sort out your mix. If you have to master your own stuff, I find it works much better to get things sounding as good as you can first by manipulating the individual channels or groups, with nothing on the main stereo bus. Print this to a stereo track and come back to it another day. On this other day, you just open up this stereo track into your program or whatever, and do your best to make it sound good how it is with whatever tools you have. Keeps you from working against yourself a bit I think, trying to mix into a bunch of mastering stuff that may or may not really be needed yet.
  12. headchem

    headchem Guest

    Ok, round 2! However, the original song needs a remix / re-recording so badly that I'm retiring it from this thread.

    The goal of this experiment is to get lots of perceived spikes while actually being horribly too loud to have spikes...

    My idea is as follows: instead of acheiving dynamics through spikes in volume, what about dips in volume right before a spike? I programmed a device in Reason that will dip volume 2-4 dB roughly 20 ms before a peak in either the snare or bass drum. It's a dual-band effect, too, so 20 ms before the bass drum hits, volume is reduced a few decibles only in the bass frequencies, and vice versa with the snare peak in the trebles.

    I got the idea thinking about audio masking, and how peaks in volume can actually mask sounds that occur before the peak because of the way our brain processes sound. So I thought that the brief dips in volume would add to a perceived dynamic change while not really being noticable as dips.

    So here it is, at -8.8 dB RMS, just shy of the RMS value of the chorus of Green Day's Boulevard Of Broken Dreams single... Note, for some reason this mp3 doesn't leave the .55 dB headroom that I have in the aif file. This hasn't affected sound quality as far as I can tell.

    1.1 Mb, 48 kHz, 0:51


    1. Is it dynamic?
    2. Is it loud?
    3. If it is dynamic, is it due to the "dip" idea, or is it just the program material?
  13. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    It's somewhat interesting but it's not dynamic but the mix is improving. You need to stop worrying about trying to get it louder than loud. It's nonproductive. Get a good mix going and then go to mastering, not the other way around.

    Inside out
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  14. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    It would sound much better if it were lower.

    Kind of dull sounding. Low end is pushing all of the detail out of the mix by way of compression and limiting.

    Not sure why you are going for volume. Why not make it good sounding and leave it at that?

    This is a classic case of looking at meters and not listening to what you are doing. While the RMS is up there, it's not sounding very good.

    You're missing the whole idea of mastering and going straight to breaking the rules. First your mix is out of balance and then it's getting slammed. Try leaving level out of the equation and post something that sounds exactly as you like it. No flat tops, no compression for level, zero limiting. Lets just get it good sounding first.
  15. headchem

    headchem Guest

    That first song was probably the worst mix I've ever done, but it was the most "rock" so I thought I'd use it for this loudness stuff. I know it's impossible to be dynamic at these volumes, but the whole point is to try to fake these dynamics while maintaining the "radio" volume the powers that be demand.

    Sure I'm interested in making good music, but that's for the other forums... I'm on a mastering kick, and if I'm aiming for the top, I already have some basic limits set for me: very loud, maintain dynamics if possible.

    Forget the mixes - I'll leave that for someone not so intimate with the song - my real question is: Is this dip idea worth pursuing as a way of mitigating the negative effects of too loud mastering? Does anyone hear anything useful in it? It can certainly be used at lower volumes, but I've been pushing the limits to see what it can do.
  16. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Absolutely not worth it. Not effective. You are hearing what you want to hear and nothing that is actually working well.

    Let listener fatigue roll
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  17. headchem

    headchem Guest

    Do you all consider top 40 rock to be very dynamic? I mean, would you say it's significanntly more dynamic than the last clip I posted? I'm guessing the answer is yes, and it looks like I'm still searching for their secrets...

    What keeps me going is that the expensive equipment they use was designed by an electrical engineer - basically a computer programmer perhaps with instructions from a big dog ME - and with Reason and cSound, I don't see why I don't have all the tools necesary to emulte whatever they're programming.
  18. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    You do have the tools you need. You just haven't done enough mixing yet to really know what's going on. You need to listen to a lot more stuff and then try to start imitating the sound of the mixes you're hearing without worrying about loudness. It's like knowing the directions to Carnegie hall? Practice Practice Practice and then you might find a place? First you go for the sound in the mix. Only after that you start to optimize levels, downstream.

    Still practicing after all these years
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  19. headchem

    headchem Guest

    The problem is knowing a good mix from a good master. If only we could buy albums in their pre-master stage, learning how to mix would be easier. However, we're stuck reverse engineering a good mix through the mastering layer. Can you point me toward a thread or book or anything?
  20. zemlin

    zemlin Well-Known Member

    I have an idea.
    Try mixing with your ears rather than with numbers.
    Stop looking at dB levels and LISTEN to what you are doing.
    It's very easy to get distracted by all the numbers and gizmo gadgetry on the screen.

    I have my control surface away from my computer monitors so I am less likely to look at the screen when I'm making adjustments.

    Make it good, first. Louder will come later.

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