Old 02-20-2011, 08:38 AM   #1
Lawrence
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Default Losing Control of A Mix

Has this ever happened to anyone here?
  • Doing a basic rough mix which came together pretty well initially. I was mixing for "loudness" in this case so I put a comp and L2 on the master after the mix came together and made a few tweaks. Everything sounded good all is well.
  • A tiny bit later on I decided the kick drum was too loud so I reduced it on the source track which caused a huge cascade of mix changes. In the few minutes I had left I wasn't able to get quite back where I was. I'll probably need another 30-45 minutes today to redo my overall levels and automation.
Here's what happened...

When I reduced the kick drum level, it changed the compression on the drums, dropped below the threshold, which also changed the compression and limiting on the master which threw all of my vocal, lead and backing, track levels and automation off - not just "trim to fix" off but "need to trim and edit automation to fix" off. It also threw off the balances of my instrument tracks and most of my automation moves. Adjusting the threshold on the drums didn't quite get me back where I was. I couldn't quickly get back to the relative balances I had before, not even by re-adjusting the drum bus compression.

That single driving force, the kick in a compressed drum bus into the master bus with a comp and limiter drastically changed - everything - in the mix when I reduced the kick drum level.

Moral: If you plan to mix "loud" like that with comps and limiters, before you start adding comps and limiters to the master bus be sure that your "bedrock" driving sources, the things which will mostly drive compression and limiting before the master bus, are set.
  • Do your best static mix without master bus compression or limiting.
  • When (if) you want to go "competitively" loud on the master save the song first and use an alternate mix file for that so you'll always have your "normal" mix without master DSP.
  • If you know you're going to do that, processing for "loud" in the master bus, don't start any automation anywhere until your static mix balances are exactly how you want them *with* the master bus compression and limiting already on or you'll maybe be reworking levels and automation through the entire mix like I have to do here.... or if you know for sure the mix won't be going to a pro ME just strap on your master bus comp and limiter before you start mixing.
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Old 02-20-2011, 08:01 PM   #2
steadyrev
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Thanks for sharing this teaching moment, Lawrence.
It probably should be cross-referenced in the production thread.
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Old 05-08-2011, 06:17 AM   #3
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It can happen pretty quickly, specially when changing levels of heavy transient material.

I had many occasion when I was banging my head against the table, because a good mix was changed so drastically.
That is why I always make a backup of the mixed material project before I play with any compression and limiting on the master bus so I have a startup point saved if I screw it up.

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Old 05-08-2011, 06:38 AM   #4
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Yeah that has happened to me as well.

However I don't ever wait to add my buss compressor. If you make a whole rough mix without a buss compressor...why even add one at all? The whole point of the buss compressor is to mix with it, so if you mix without it...then when you add it you're effectively having to remix the track (even a subtle buss compressor set for fairly small GR is going to change the sound). I always mix into my buss comp and just try to be aware of the way adjustments to driving levels can impact it.

That's also why I don't master in my mix project file. I prefer to print a finished premaster file and master that, it seems less destructive to the mix and it takes away my chance to just endlessly tweak individual stems rather than approaching the master as a process for a finished 2-track.

A good mix should be a good mix (you left some headroom for mastering [even if you're mastering it], right?). I recommend making the whole "setting a competitive level" the very last thing you do rather than trying to make that part of the mix.
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Old 05-08-2011, 09:16 PM   #5
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Dear God, man.

I don't even know where to start. Mixing for "loudness"? What does that mean? Do you have some magical way to control the listener's volume knob?

To me, the whole second part of this post both answers the question and then destroys it.

Start your mix with the kick, snare, and bass. Get them sounding good with your peak levels around -10dB if digital or around 0dBu if recording to tape. The rest of the mix will fall together if you maintain those level and then mix in everything else by ear.

If the client wants it to sound louder, turn up the loudspeakers in the control room. If someone paying the bills insists that the dynamic range be clipped, clip it. That's super-easy to do. It sounds like shit, but whatever. If the client wants everything to sound like it comes from a cheap stereo with a crappy subwoofer, that is easy to achieve. Just clip the mix, or run it through a distortion pedal or some such.

"starting" a mix with an eye towards a clipped output is just insanity.
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Old 05-09-2011, 05:50 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yep View Post
Dear God, man.

I don't even know where to start. Mixing for "loudness"? What does that mean? Do you have some magical way to control the listener's volume knob?
It means that my intent was to mix a demo with a pretty high RMS level so I started with an L2 on the master and mixed into it. I thought it was pretty self-explanatory. Because I didn't "assure" my drum sub-mix, later when I adjusted it the limiter on the master caused everything to start going off.

I don't normally mix that way with limiters on the master but I will do that if I know it's not going to mastering and I want the RMS pretty high (loud)... rather than strap it on after the fact.

Dear God man, there's more than one way to skin the proverbial cat and not every mix is meant to be a radio hit or an actual record. Some mixes are just for YouTube or MySpace or a persons personal enjoyment and there aren't many "rules" beyond it sounding ok when you're done. Relax.

Quote:
"starting" a mix with an eye towards a clipped output is just insanity.
Not sure I suggested any such intent.

Last edited by Lawrence; 05-09-2011 at 05:58 AM.
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Old 05-10-2011, 05:25 AM   #7
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I sense a loudness wars debate coming on.
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Old 05-10-2011, 09:31 AM   #8
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For me I used to find the first hour the "losing control" stage and then I would lock it down and find "the way".

Making very good decisions at the outset is a big part of mixing IMO.

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Old 05-10-2011, 10:45 AM   #9
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I really dont see the point, should be prety obvious that making your monitoring system worse (increasing its distortion figures) will make mixing harder.
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Old 05-10-2011, 11:07 AM   #10
Lawrence
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shoyoninja View Post
I really dont see the point, should be prety obvious that making your monitoring system worse (increasing its distortion figures) will make mixing harder.
I guess my communications skills are severely lacking. Let me paraphrase what happened, why, and who the post was directed to.

Stipulation: For many (right or wrong) people doing their own music and who want it "loud" it's actually not a terrible idea, in that specific context, to mix into a limiter. You can do that without causing any bad distortion and the context there is very specific and thin and only relevant to that specific thing... not to making a record for Sony.

Just for the guy making songs for MySpace who can't resist the loudness wars.

The Point:
The only point of the OP was to say that *if* you do that - something I don't normally do but I did do in that case - that if you have something like a drum bus, with it's own compression settings which will - when mixing drums up - drive the master bus limiter, that if you don't get that set up just right, up front, it will screw up everything later if you have to adjust it. In my case my kick was way too loud and the changes there flowed through everything because everything was being affected by the mains limiter.

So my drum bus needed major changes later in the mix which changed the relative levels of everything in the master, which threw off a lot of my automation moves, it kind of cascaded downhill across the entire mix. It's the "cause and effect" relationship of mixing into a limiter that's pushing the RMS way up.

It was not meant as a "tutorial" on mixing. It was meant as a "what to be careful of" if one is approaching a home mix that specific way.

That's all folks. I am not suggesting that anyone mix through a limiter. I'm suggesting that if you choose to do that in certain contexts where it might not be harmful to do that, what to kind of look out for.

There was nothing "distorted" about the song, the levels of my vocals and other things just went all screwy when I re-adjusted the drum bus, causing me to have to re-write a bunch of automation.

Now having said all of that, if you give me the same tracks to mix - and you tell me you want the levels the same as "commercial loudness" (yes, insane, I know) and we both know it won't be going to a pro ME, I personally think (mmv) I could get a better sounding result mixing into a master bus limiter from the start than I could trying to limit the 2-bus after the fact to get to the same high RMS level.

Last edited by Lawrence; 05-10-2011 at 11:25 AM.
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Old 05-10-2011, 12:19 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lawrence View Post
I guess my communications skills are severely lacking. Let me paraphrase what happened, why, and who the post was directed to.

Stipulation: For many (right or wrong) people doing their own music and who want it "loud" it's actually not a terrible idea, in that specific context, to mix into a limiter. You can do that without causing any bad distortion and the context there is very specific and thin and only relevant to that specific thing... not to making a record for Sony.

Just for the guy making songs for MySpace who can't resist the loudness wars.

The Point:
The only point of the OP was to say that *if* you do that - something I don't normally do but I did do in that case - that if you have something like a drum bus, with it's own compression settings which will - when mixing drums up - drive the master bus limiter, that if you don't get that set up just right, up front, it will screw up everything later if you have to adjust it. In my case my kick was way too loud and the changes there flowed through everything because everything was being affected by the mains limiter.

So my drum bus needed major changes later in the mix which changed the relative levels of everything in the master, which threw off a lot of my automation moves, it kind of cascaded downhill across the entire mix. It's the "cause and effect" relationship of mixing into a limiter that's pushing the RMS way up.

It was not meant as a "tutorial" on mixing. It was meant as a "what to be careful of" if one is approaching a home mix that specific way.

That's all folks. I am not suggesting that anyone mix through a limiter. I'm suggesting that if you choose to do that in certain contexts where it might not be harmful to do that, what to kind of look out for.

There was nothing "distorted" about the song, the levels of my vocals and other things just went all screwy when I re-adjusted the drum bus, causing me to have to re-write a bunch of automation.

Now having said all of that, if you give me the same tracks to mix - and you tell me you want the levels the same as "commercial loudness" (yes, insane, I know) and we both know it won't be going to a pro ME, I personally think (mmv) I could get a better sounding result mixing into a master bus limiter from the start than I could trying to limit the 2-bus after the fact to get to the same high RMS level.
In all honesty, this is true about any buss compression regardless of whether it's being compressed for loudness reasons or for glue on the 2buss; especially with some compressors when you make changes to the levels you're mixing into your buss comp you can get some seriously screwy results whether you lower or raise the signal.

In fact, I would argue that this is potentially a much bigger issue when you're compressing for glue (just a dB or two off the top) versus limiting for loudness when you likely have the threshold set to affect a larger amplitude, it's just that the results might not be as dramatic (there might not be as much volume variation between the various results) because you were dealing with lower volumes (and lower amounts of gain reduction) to begin with. But it's a big argument against the buss compressor: it can seriously hinder making rearrangements (because now your delicate balance is totally thrown; sometimes it's like starting over at full up).
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