experimented with Cakewalk but I don't think I fully understand
compressor and EQ settings. Can you help? -Shannon
and limiting are simple to understand with just a bit of explaination. Compression
is like an automatic volume knob that turns down the signal depending
on how you've set the parameters. Commonly the idea is that louder
portions of a given signal can be reduced so that the overall level is
more even. This is helpful to (1) lower loud surges and (2)
allow the softer parts to become more even (and more audible) with the
louder parts --
giving better consistency to the sound.
setting is the threshold
- which is the point at which the
device works. Like the threshold of a doorway is the point at
which you step into the other room - it's a "line" you cross
over. Imagine recording a vocal that's going through a compressor
- the softer parts of the vocal performace
- before the threshold - are not altered by the compressor. But
the threshold (after you step "across" the line), the device begins
the volume down.
it's turned down is determined by the compression ratio. 4:1
compression ratio means that for every four dB of signal that goes into
the unit, it turns it down so that only 1 dB comes out. 8:1 means that
for every 8 dB that's put in, an increase of 1 dB is what goes out.
Often we see a meter reading called "Gain Reduction" which is how much
the device is turning the signal down (that's what I prefer to look at
on the meters).
attack time is when
(how soon or how fast) the gain reduction unit
starts altering the sound. The release
time is when (or how long until)
the unit stops altering the sound. The slower the attack time, the more
the initial signal gets through the unit without being altered. Slower
attack times let through more peak (and the immediately trailing)
material because it waits longer to start working.
(which is really just more compression) starts up at 10:1 and
goes up from there. Since limiting is really turning down the signal a
lot at once, it's faster and mainly used on peaks which are occasional,
not constant. Used properly, limiting should be hardly detectable
because it's controlling shorter amounts of sound.
- 6:1 is a more subtle amount of alteration to the sound, it
can be used for more containment, for instance on vocals, bass, etc.
Stereo mixes, however, don't sound good being overly-contained. In
very careful about keeping the openness to the sound of a mix, so I
recommend being carefull about how much you may be compressing the
stereo output of your
console. If your meters are swinging too far "into the red" check on
individual voices and instruments that need the containment. A good mix
doesn't have a ton of giant level surprises!
can serve to keep you out of the red, but often I prefer it
used on individual tracks. If you put too much
compression or limiting on your mix, un-doing it is more difficult.
Limiting and compression is frequently used differently on different
songs, so try different settings to see how they work for you (but
don't assume you should just turn the knobs up to "10"!).
It's a good idea to try stereo buss limiting to make reference CDs for
evaluation of what
really happens to your sound on commercial systems -- particularly to
reference your music with commercial CDs. Loud-and-limited
commercial CDs have been carefully crafted, but there's much to learn
by doing it yourself and listening critically. ... just lessen or
remove that limiter when you're making your final mix... or stick with
Separations and allow the dynamics to speak out musically.)
you end up liking a lot of limiting or compressing on your
stereo mix, it may be a good idea to leave the limiter or compression
on when you make Separations! It's easy to rely on the way the
sound is dialed in when you are pushing the signal up against the
limitor or rcompressor.
Caution: You want
to notice if it becomes very easy to make it sound too good when using
a stereo buss compressor. Well, the sound can
too good! What I
mean is that when everything
in a mix comes forward a bit, you hear more of everything that you've
recorded. This can be good except when you start to reduce the
parts of the sound that need to snap forward. Same thing with a
Finalizer in mixdown.
Since it sounds so good, it tends to make you not work as hard at
the tracks level to get the mix to
be totally exciting and punchy as you want it.
Working hard on the mix (within reason) adds a level of excitement to
the song. It adds a "performance" element, if you will, to the mix
process. When you put more energy into the mix, it somehow comes out
more on the cd.
great fun mixing through a Finalizer several times, thinking how
good it sounded, until I got these mixes in to the mastering room.
Right before my ears, what I thought was exciting and vibrant was more
soggy in the mastering room. The Finalizer had enhanced the sound
while causing me to overlook some of the detail I normally would. The
highs and lows were good, but it wasn't up
to the song's potential. Once again, I was reminded thata well
often does not take the place of solid basic music-based engineering.
riding faders is a very correct form of gain
manual compression), and
with your ears as the guide, it's a very musical form too. If you are
unsure as to whether or not to compress your stereo buss prior to
mastering, then make 2
mixes, one with and one without. These two mix versions can be
referenceed to the other songs during the mastering process to see what
mastering totally enhances the sound field. It's a new journey in the
- Ice Green, producer
for Gina Green, Ritestep Records
had no idea what to expect,
but it seemed like the logical thing to do. You were right.
We had more options, the sound opened up and we're happy with the
results." - Rise
technology of Separations gives
more vitality to the sound - it gives a new experience to my sound."
brought to our album using Separation Mastering was truly eye opening."
Deal By Dusk
Q) What type of EQ & comp. for
vocals, guitars, bass and drums?
isn't a formula, because every musical element is unique and
deserves the listening treatment. Eq'ing is a another article in
itself. For now, as far as compression, I like 4:1 for vocals and bass,
maybe 5:1 for guitars, and generally I don't compress drums unless I'm
going for an effect, or it's just needed in the mix. (I do like gating
toms slightly.) If the drummer isn't consistent with the volume of
his/her playing, I attempt to iron that out at the tracking session,
not the mixdown. Sampling and replacing drum notes is an option, but
ultimately, it's more of a win for everybody if the player (the source)
is held to a higher standard.
getting a professional sound, there is just a learning curve,
and every engineer goes through it. I can remember hearing records
thinking, "The high end sounds so darn much better than what I'm
doing!" Then I'd work and work on the high end, and think, "That record
has much better bottom than mine does!" Then I'd work and work on the
low end, and then I'd think, "Why can't I get the mids to sound like
that record?" And the list goes on. Striving for warmth, clarity,
smoothness, width, apparent loudness, mono compatibility, etc... it's
just a process. Experience is the only teacher that is one-on-one with
you at every moment of your career, and the frustration that goes with
it is a valuable component of this process, because it motivates you to
*ask* the questions and seek the answers.
Guideline: Generally, one
answer comes up again and again. "Less is more." Tweak as much as you
can at the source, then progressively less as you go up the next layer
up the chain, and so forth. Therefore, doing nothing at the stereo mix
buss is right in line with this idea. And...remember Rule #1 - there
are no rules. Be as unique as you want to be - don't rivet yourself
into any one idea if another one will work better. Sometimes mistakes
even lead to cooler ideas. We all experience the mistakes and
frustration, so don't be hard on yourself at these times. Just
acknowledge your feelings, let them go, and enjoy the ride along the
Q) I'm compressing my digital stereo mix
with an ART PRO VLA tube compressor before we go into the PC for
mastering. The results have actually been pretty amazing. Glancing at
your article, this might not be the best way to go. How can I suggest
[what you advise] to my engineer when he's the one with the experience
and I'm not? If it sounds good to me, should I stick with it, or will
it really cause that much trouble later for the duplication house?
two things to address: the technical situation, and the
communication situation. As far as the technical part, there are no
rules! If it sounds good, then that's a step in the right direction. An
engineer I know puts a tube compressor on his mixes just because it
adds a sound he likes, even if the compressor isn't working more than a
half dB. But.... in some cases Studio
Monitor Madness could be occurring -
the monitors could be masking
some loss in dynamics. When in doubt, just compress the appropriate
tracks within the mix (like bass, vocals, etc.) and let the mastering
engineer do the stereo work.
duplication house (CD replication plant) will only have problems if
you give them a CD with uncorrectable errors or a defective master -
they're not concerned with sounds as much as a cassette duplication
company (but a good cassette company will be able to handle whatever
you give them... it's just easier for them if it's well mastered).
tricky area of communicating a preference with your engineer,
you have to keep balance in the chemistry that you've developed with
your technical personnel. I use the "donut" theory - say something
positive, then introduce the challenging part, then say something
positive again. Also one of the best ways to diffuse the energy is to
come right out front and say, "I've gotten some ideas from an outside
source that may be different from what we've done together for a while.
I'm a little uncomfortable about bringing these things up, because I
appreciate your work, and I'm not into stepping on anybody's toes,
especially yours. I don't even know if these new ideas are good ones or
not, but I'd like to know if you'd be open to trying some things. They
may be cool, they may not be cool. I'd like your opinion, and for the
sake of stretching what's possible, I'd like to experiment with some
changes. What do you say?"
can I suggest otherwise" could also go like this: "Fred
(a.k.a. your engineer), I'm loving the results we're getting so far.
And as a curious sound person, I've read an article by a mastering
engineer that discourages compression, although he doesn't state this
as a hard and fast rule. Given my budget, do we have any room to
experiment with leaving the stereo compression off the next tune to
begin with, and then doing a separate version with it in?"
Fred's response would be to accommodate your request. The
thing to be careful of is that once the compressor is in, there could
be some level increase that seems to be enhancement. *Buyer Beware!*
The key is to listen to both the compressed mix and the uncompressed
mix *at the same level*. You may have to lower the compressed version
to really go side-by side, but when the volume level (use your ears,
not just meters) matches, then see if the difference is really better.
Often, I don't compress, I only limit the peaks to get the CD hot.
Important: While the
particular song you're working on now may sound good compressed, in the
context of the *whole cd*, it may not need as much compression, or it
actually may need more. When I master a project, I like to hear the
context of the whole project... the entire personality of the cd. One
song influences the others... even the order can have an affect on how
much processing different songs will eventually have. But if you've
compressed it while you're in the studio... wrapped up in the moment...
and you find that it's tooooo much later on - guess what? Tough luck
(or go back and remix).
great advantage to professional mastering is that you can take
home the mastered CD with you and listen to it... compare it to other
CDS and on several systems. Then, if changes need to be made (like less
compression or more compression), then you can go back and in a
relatively short time, make the change you prefer... and have a better
product that you're happier with for years to come.
Q) I am interested in a compressor for
mastering my music but I do not know if it is worth it to spend more
money on an elaborate compressor like the Cranesong or the Summit just
to get only 10-15% better sound quality than if I buying a cheaper
compressor with similar or with slightly less specifications than from
the "High End" compressors.
don't always tell the tale. I tried a [highly rated]
compressor that many mastering engineers thought was great at that
time. I didn't care for [that] compressor, so I took it back and tried
six others. The one I picked wasn't the most expensive. In time, that
[highly rated] compressor wasn't used at other mastering studios
either, and the one I picked gained in popularity. Specifications are a
good staring place, particularly when it comes to being on a budget.
The music I compose is cinema/documentary,
classical/ballet and is from synthetic sounds.
quiet and musical will be the best, and the high end units
will sound better. More open and smooth. However there may only be a
10% difference. It depends on your customer and how much of a
difference it will make to them and to the buying public. If it's just
too much for what they will or won't hear, then I'd say save your money
and look to some better speakers (unless you're very very happy with
them already). I think great speakers, power amps and cables can make
as much or more difference.
I have some R & B songs that I want to
mix down the music without vocal, so I can sing them live. My
uncompressed mixes sound low level and transient using Digital
Hard disc recordings
for the most part have a more
"vacant" less solid sound than analog. Look at the waveform and you'll
see much spikier looking peaks than the fat, more rounded analog
version. If you cut your drum tracks on analog and transfer to hard
disc you'll get more wallop on the bottom end.
What would be some good compression settings that I could apply to the
stereo mix here to go right out and sing live with it. When I've tried
to do this on my own, it takes some of the punch out of the music.
comes from the excursion (distance of movement) of the speaker.
Too much compression usually results from the threshold being set too
low (acting too soon) and just causing a blend. What you really want is
more fatness in the peaks, and more apparent contrast in the dynamic
range (higher peaks, lower lows) but still keeping the track
full-bodied. A limiter might be the ticket, enabling you to bring the
overall mix up without curving down too much musical information. A
10:1 ratio or more with a fast attack and release time would be a good
staring place, but you'll just need to experiment to match your exact
NOTE: In the May
2003 Mix Magazine issue (a must-have
issue), there's an article
called "Stop Mousing Around" where they have about 6 paragraphs stating
"MONITOR SECTIONS: THE MISSING LINK." A
high resolution monitor controller can be a powerful tool to hear the
necessary when listening to compression.
Q) Do you have any suggestion for getting a
more transparent sound? -Quincy
Separations can add a
significant amount of transparency. Besides that, good electronics and
clean mics help for sure. I'm also a fan of high end power cords
that clean up the AC lines - this translates to better top end and
tighter bottom. Clean mixing helps too - don't have bad caps in the
console, some transformers can add too much coloration, etc. Don't
bounce too many tracks digitally unless you really need the processing
power - there can be some dullness and lack of zip that occurs from
of headroom - don't press everything to the top. Don't have
your recording room be too dead - some diffusion and live surfaces are
good. Higher quality reverbs add a great deal of transparency that the
cheap ones just can't match.
cutting with eq at 400Hz 500Hz 600Hz or 700Hz (anywhere in
between) can help give a more pure sound. If stuff is a little boxy or
cloudy a peak eq (dip in this case) cutting with a moderate Q can help.
arrangement of the instruments can help - be sure stuff isn't
crowding out other sounds, be sure parts are played tightly, and pan
things so they don't overlap too much. If your sound seems good in the
studio and fluffy in the car, your monitors could be too bright or you
could be adding too much from 32Hz and down in the bass or kic.
solo stuff, it should sound almost too clear to be correct,
but when it's all blended it, then it should sound correct. Avoid using
the same frequencies on too much stuff. Spread the timbre out evenly,
keep the bass clean and even, watch for ground loops or hum in your
testing out different ideas - we all
discover much that way!
I have a set of
monitors and I have an Beringer equalizer to real time [analyze] the
room to check for hot spots. Is that ok or should I learn the monitors
natural curve and room issues? Is it good to compare CD’s and
listen in the car and other play
back units and make the adjustments
out the Behringer and get to training
your ears to detect a range of sounds - and then understand how that
range translates to the commercial playback world. If you can't
get the distinctions you want, alter the speaker placement and the room
conditions to meet the
preferences of your ears. What that means is play 20 different
Pick up some of the ones I listen to
and check for the
characteristics I talk about on that page. You should hear 20
different sounding CDs and you should be able to pick out what you like
and what you don't like.
instance, I bought the Eric Clapton CD "Back Home" and I like the
clarity and the mix, but the sub-bottom end is TOO much, and it's too
slamming loud. Disappointing because he doesn't need it to be hot
sell records. I love the Toad the Wet Sprocket "Coil" even though
mixing is a bit compressed - all the music is clear and warm. You
should put up your reference CDs, and if you keep hearing the same
"tone" that you don't like, then modify the speaker and room so you
find a situation where you like the differences and
Listen in several consumer places and take note of what you hear that
you like. What's obvious, what's subtle.
the speakers are to the wall, the more the bottom end
changes. The farther back you sit from the speakers, the more the
changes. The farther apart the speakers are, the more the tone
changes. See how it sounds when you sit or stand at the very back
really good cables because that will change the tone of the
top end a lot. Be sure your CD playback system is excellent - a
player with so-so converters won't give you the truth. Sorry to
more money, but if you are referencing to pro music, you have to hear
it as good as you can possibly afford. Again, the cables make a
difference. I use several kinds of Audioquest and Mapleshade
products. You may think Mapleshade's "Tweaks and Wires" are funky
looking but they know their stuff.