Author Topic: Ambient music and Mastering  (Read 25354 times)

Ekstasis

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Ambient music and Mastering
« on: January 27, 2009, 08:38:41 PM »
Yes mastering with Ambient music is very different to other music. Please feel free to share your experience on this...
Personally I am still learning, I am very careful with using traditional mastering compressors such as L3, since they do take
away a lot of the "space" in the music. Ambient music is especially sensitive since it is often include a lot of reverb/space.

The Volume level is always a problem when you mix down, it usually sounds good in your DAW, but then in your media player
you notice the volume is very low, normalizing audio does not always help...

Around -8 db to -3 db I think is a good range for ambient music and where the sound sounds best.

I have yet not tried many mastering tools that works good with ambient music.  Usually analog  based mastering tools
does best, since they add warmth to the sound and do keep more of the dynamic range.  They do often color the sound and are not always as transparent.

deepspace

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2009, 10:36:23 PM »
Yes, it is definitely tricky mastering ambient music.  Sometimes the very thing that attracts you to something in a song you've recorded can be squashed out of existence with compression, or any other commonly used effect.  I'm always very careful to not add anything if something gives me goosebumps.  When I took "The Glittering Domain" to be mastered, I added some compression to it, and when I took the album home, I found it completely annoying to listen to- everything was suddenly 'up' in the mix- all the little nuances that were meant to be barely noticeable were suddenly clearly discernable.  So I took it back and stripped it of most of the compression, which fixed the problem. 

All the rules of production are somewhat changed with ambient.  Kneejerk production touches can be detrimental, because I guess you're dealing with such subtlety.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2009, 10:38:42 PM by deepspace »
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Ekstasis

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2009, 12:37:50 PM »
Well, I wish there was tools directly made for ambient music and where the extreme volume and power is not in focus...but the sound quality...
In popular music today there is a competition in who have the loudest volume and much power in the mix...while this sounds good in some music
I think in general that we overuse it a lot...

Personally I sometimes use very mild compression with maybe a maximum threshold of -3.  Compressors do not only add increased volume but they could also
add improved sound quality and improved mix in general...this is what I like about for instance Waves L3.
You could do it backwards also I guess, using a limiter or in other ways make sure the volume level does not get past -6db during recording,  then afterwards you can  normalize to get a better volume level while you still the dynamic range remains unchanged. 

Another question is where in the chain the reverb should be added...it might sound best if you put it in the end of the chain on the master bus.
Depending on what reverbs you use and the quality, but for instance pure an genuine reverb algorithms from Lexion I am sure sounds best "untouched"
without any compression that does distort/dissolve the reverb algorithms.
Other less powerful reverbs might sound better if you use various audio processing tools to make it sound better...

Ekstasis

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2009, 10:19:35 PM »


"Redline Monitor makes mixes sound identical on speakers and headphones."

Has anyone of you tried this ???
It might be useful... if you as me mostly use headphones...but not sure how well it does reflect the reality...

You can download it try it for free for 60 days!

http://www.112db.com/redline/monitor/
« Last Edit: January 28, 2009, 10:30:38 PM by Immersion »

Seren

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #4 on: January 29, 2009, 10:04:11 AM »
I must admit I don't use compression anywhere.

Reverb on the other hand, that I can put in just about anywhere - carefully of course and for specific effect rather than overall wash.

Working on a piece now where I use the reverb directly on 100% mix and just throw in the odd burst of sound from the recorded track to get sounds that are different yet connected to the original recording.

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2009, 10:12:10 AM »
Compression can be very useful, and in fact I incorporate compression often, both in the creation of my own recordings and the mastering of other people's recordings.

But the notion that compression automatically makes things sound "better" is nonsense.  In many cases it can make things sound worse.  It's nothing more than a tool to change the relative dynamics between loud and quiet parts in a given segment of audio.  Used casually, compression is more likely to screw things up than improve things.  I've screwed up a master more than once by getting too compression-happy, and ended up going back to pre-compression version of the master and trying to solve the level or volume issues again some other way.
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LNerell

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2009, 10:22:29 AM »
"Redline Monitor makes mixes sound identical on speakers and headphones."

Has anyone of you tried this ???

From their page:

Quote
Its proprietary algorithm performs a sophisticated combination of filtering, frequency-dependent delaying, mid/side processing, and room simulation to create a convincing acoustic soundstage that allows you to properly localize sound sources.

I would never use it, it kind of defeats the purpose of mastering, you don't want to add anything to simulate what you might hear and to then make corrections, you want to actually hear it for real and then add corrections.

Most mastering engineers I know say the most important tools the mastering engineer has are their years of experience followed by the sound of the room he/she uses.

As for compression I don't think its really needed that much in most ambient music, maybe a bit of limiting to make sure their are no overs of the digtial signal. Compression is over used in most popular music, I think its best to stay away from it for the most part.
Take care.

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bunkdata

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #7 on: January 29, 2009, 11:06:27 AM »
I agree, mastering ambient music is a complex task indeed!  While I don't have any specific tools/tricks I use for mastering wav files, I do have a trick for mastering or at least normalizing mixes for MP3 releases.  Check out MP3Gain - http://mp3gain.sourceforge.net/  it's open source (free - legal) and non-destructive!  It's a very simple normalizing program for MP3s and I have used it countless times on my mp3 converted releases with great success.  Per the web page:

"MP3Gain does not just do peak normalization, as many normalizers do. Instead, it does some statistical analysis to determine how loud the file actually sounds to the human ear.
Also, the changes MP3Gain makes are completely lossless. There is no quality lost in the change because the program adjusts the mp3 file directly, without decoding and re-encoding."

If you are doing MP3 releases, this is a great way to go without having to mess around with fancy compressors and limiters. 

Enjoy!

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Ekstasis

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #8 on: January 29, 2009, 11:20:28 AM »
"Redline Monitor makes mixes sound identical on speakers and headphones."

Has anyone of you tried this ???

From their page:

Quote
Its proprietary algorithm performs a sophisticated combination of filtering, frequency-dependent delaying, mid/side processing, and room simulation to create a convincing acoustic soundstage that allows you to properly localize sound sources.

I would never use it, it kind of defeats the purpose of mastering, you don't want to add anything to simulate what you might hear and to then make corrections, you want to actually hear it for real and then add corrections.

Most mastering engineers I know say the most important tools the mastering engineer has are their years of experience followed by the sound of the room he/she uses.

As for compression I don't think its really needed that much in most ambient music, maybe a bit of limiting to make sure their are no overs of the digtial signal. Compression is over used in most popular music, I think its best to stay away from it for the most part.

While I have not tried this enough, I think REDLINE monitor might be less suitable for ambient music. I think the Red line monitor itself is based on an Impulse reverb. I tried my latest recording which use a lot of reverb, the reverb sounded not good at all through the plugin in headphones... The bass resonance/feedback was way higher then without the Redline Monitor.  Bass bass resonance/feedback I think is the biggest problem when you mix in headphones, it is very hard to hear and detect, to detect it you must most likely use some kind of visualizer.

Ekstasis

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #9 on: January 29, 2009, 11:27:06 AM »
Compression can be very useful, and in fact I incorporate compression often, both in the creation of my own recordings and the mastering of other people's recordings.

But the notion that compression automatically makes things sound "better" is nonsense.  In many cases it can make things sound worse.  It's nothing more than a tool to change the relative dynamics between loud and quiet parts in a given segment of audio.  Used casually, compression is more likely to screw things up than improve things.  I've screwed up a master more than once by getting too compression-happy, and ended up going back to pre-compression version of the master and trying to solve the level or volume issues again some other way.

I think there is  no right or wrong, in the end...it all comes down to personal preference and taste...  It all depends on context and how you use it, if we speak compression in an mastering or mixing context, it is completely different..
There is both good and bad things about compression, but one thing for certain is that it brings "clarity" into the mix, since you hear the whole dynamic range more clearly, but yet less dynamic... As I see it a lot of music today is totally destroyed in the mastering process, where they compress everything to the max to get the extra "boost" or "power".  Metallica's "Death Magnetic" is a good example sounds like total crap.

APK

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2009, 11:50:22 AM »
Immersion said: "one thing for certain is that it brings "clarity" into the mix, since you hear the whole dynamic range more clearly..."

I wouldn't say this is certain. The perceived clarity is perhaps simply a result of a volume increase. If compression reduces the dynamic range then its not adding clarity. 

I do quite a lot of mastering, and I'd say that a bit of well-placed EQ work brings clarity to a mix.

I use compression very sparingly.
But I do use a good EQ quite a bit.
And I find that a good visualization plugin is absolutely essential to mastering.

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Ekstasis

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2009, 12:08:49 PM »
Immersion said: "one thing for certain is that it brings "clarity" into the mix, since you hear the whole dynamic range more clearly..."

I wouldn't say this is certain. The perceived clarity is perhaps simply a result of a volume increase. If compression reduces the dynamic range then its not adding clarity. 

I do quite a lot of mastering, and I'd say that a bit of well-placed EQ work brings clarity to a mix.

I use compression very sparingly.
But I do use a good EQ quite a bit.
And I find that a good visualization plugin is absolutely essential to mastering.



Yes but what I mean is the result of the reduced dynamic range, makes the lower dynamic range more clear and audible, sound you would not maybe even hear before in a full mix... otherwise the higher dynamic range will overlap the lower dynamic range. So for me it does definitely give a certain clarity in the full sound spectrum....
This can be very useful for certain sounds in the mix, but to use it on the full mix..that is something totally different...

But when we speak about mastering and add it in the end of the sound chain... I think you should be very careful in ambient music...I am pretty sure that masters like Steve Roach and Robert Rich all use the reverb unit in the end of the chain.


ffcal

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2009, 12:09:42 PM »
Immersion said: "one thing for certain is that it brings "clarity" into the mix, since you hear the whole dynamic range more clearly..."

I wouldn't say this is certain. The perceived clarity is perhaps simply a result of a volume increase. If compression reduces the dynamic range then its not adding clarity. 

I do quite a lot of mastering, and I'd say that a bit of well-placed EQ work brings clarity to a mix.

I'd have to agree with Anthony on both points.  Would it add clarity if you asked an entire orchestra to play at a fixed volume for the duration of a piece?  A lack of dynamic range can really bring up a listener's fatigue level very quickly.  I was recently listening to a Natural Snow Buildings release that had almost no variation in dynamic range at all.  My interest waned after about 10 minutes at the same volume level.

I find EQ to be far more critical to a mix than compression.  Even better, why not introduce elements in an ambient piece that touch on all of the different frequency ranges?  I find it hard to listen to some of my earlier pieces, which sound too midrangy to me.

I often use different reverb settings within a single piece, because it seems to create more of a "back to front" feeling than if I simply threw all of the sounds into the same reverb setting.

Forrest

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2009, 05:36:07 PM »
I'm in the EQ camp as well.  While writing, I use a 7-point parametric EQ to roughly "sculpt" the sound.  Then in the mastering phase, I'll use a 30-band EQ to fine-tune it.  I've never used compression, however I will use subtle limiting if I get some stray peaks hitting 0db.

Another thing I've been doing for years when EQing is dropping the 1k range down 3-10db.  Not to the overall mix, but to tracks within the mix that need it.  It opens up the sound beautifully.

For reverb, I'll run separate instances with their own settings for each "instrument" since I find simply putting reverb at the end of the chain is too limiting in what I'm trying to achieve.

It's interesting to see how others master their work.  :)
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deepspace

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2009, 09:44:45 PM »

I find EQ to be far more critical to a mix than compression.  Even better, why not introduce elements in an ambient piece that touch on all of the different frequency ranges?  I find it hard to listen to some of my earlier pieces, which sound too midrangy to me.

Forrest

Yes, using instruments themselves to *create* the frequency range creates the best sounding mixes, in my experience.  That way, you don't even have to eq much- As I write and layer sounds, I always think 'which part of the spectrum will this instrument inhabit' ...at least that's what I do these days- Back in the day, I didn't, and I used to wonder why my mixes sounded so messy, and that the eq-ing was just bringing up undesirable frequencies, or 'contriving' frequencies, if you know what I mean.  Apart from the bottom end roll-off, I don't like to lower many frequencies- I feel like there is no point in recording that particular part if you're going to rob it of it's natural frequency later anyway. 

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MarkM

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #15 on: February 04, 2009, 06:57:14 PM »
I am no expert on this subject, but don't you have to be careful in regards to low ends.  Without some compression/limiting don't you run the risk of blowing out somebody's speakers?

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #16 on: February 04, 2009, 07:56:37 PM »
I am no expert on this subject, but don't you have to be careful in regards to low ends.  Without some compression/limiting don't you run the risk of blowing out somebody's speakers?

Yep, you should roll off the low end to remove the inaudible, but speaker wobbling low frequencies, but with an EQ rather than a compressor. That said, you can do EQ-like things with a multiband compressor.

I'm still surprised how many people think that cone-wobbling bass is a neat thing ... when in fact it is simply stressing the cones with little or no audible purpose. Dangerous.

When I master I roll off the inaudible lows and the highs.
Many EQ units/plugins have low and high shelves, or high and low-pass filters, precisely for this purpose.

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Ekstasis

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #17 on: February 04, 2009, 11:18:10 PM »
I still not agree about what you are all saying about compressors...
There exist so many compressors and non is the same...

For ambient music I have falled in love with the

sonalksis SV-315 Mk2 Compressor, this is very warm and soft sounding compressor with an analogue sound.
It is a good tool to cut the digital and hard edges in the sound aswell...

APK

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #18 on: February 05, 2009, 07:19:02 AM »
Sorry but I'm not quite sure what you are disagreeing with, Immersion.

Your basic compressor (not multiband) is for controlling amplitude without respect to frequency. So it can smooth a mix that has harsh peaks by knocking those peaks down a bit ... wherever those peaks are throughout the frequency spectrum. So yes, it can cut harsh edges or volume spikes in this way.

An EQ is frequency specific. You can also lower volume peaks with it, but always over a particular frequency range. But of course you can also use it to lower particular frequencies that are already low in a mix, which a basic compressor does not do.

What's important, for me, is not so much the individual compressors used but the individual tracks you have to master. Some tracks can be in bad need of compression because of wayward dynamics that need taming, and this is often a matter of inadequate mixing (and recording) of the track in the first place. But I'd probably still use EQ along with the compressor. Or maybe use a multiband compressor.

A good mix may need no compression, but it may still need some massaging to bring it in line with other tracks on an album ... which is what mastering is all about.

Compressors are great for controlling dynamics in a live recording environment (singer, guitar, drum mics, etc).



 
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Ekstasis

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Re: Ambient music and Mastering
« Reply #19 on: February 05, 2009, 09:36:02 AM »
Sorry but I'm not quite sure what you are disagreeing with, Immersion.

Your basic compressor (not multiband) is for controlling amplitude without respect to frequency. So it can smooth a mix that has harsh peaks by knocking those peaks down a bit ... wherever those peaks are throughout the frequency spectrum. So yes, it can cut harsh edges or volume spikes in this way.

An EQ is frequency specific. You can also lower volume peaks with it, but always over a particular frequency range. But of course you can also use it to lower particular frequencies that are already low in a mix, which a basic compressor does not do.

What's important, for me, is not so much the individual compressors used but the individual tracks you have to master. Some tracks can be in bad need of compression because of wayward dynamics that need taming, and this is often a matter of inadequate mixing (and recording) of the track in the first place. But I'd probably still use EQ along with the compressor. Or maybe use a multiband compressor.

A good mix may need no compression, but it may still need some massaging to bring it in line with other tracks on an album ... which is what mastering is all about.

Compressors are great for controlling dynamics in a live recording environment (singer, guitar, drum mics, etc).


The compressor consist of many different sound shaping elements, such as filters etc, all together makes an complete compressor.
The Sonalksis compressor does definitely sound smooth and does not destroy the sound in an non-beautiful way.
For me the compressor is not only a mastering tool, but a mixing tool, since it makes inaudible low level information audible in the mix.
Sure you could do this with EQ also, but in that way you might loose even more audio information in the mix.
And ambient music is not for instance classical music, where a total dynamic range is needed, ambient is walls of sounds... However
I think you should use booth tools, so meaningless discussion for me.....there is no wrong way to create your sounds...as long as it sounds good to your ears.