Author Topic: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?  (Read 15095 times)

jkn

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #20 on: January 12, 2010, 08:59:38 AM »
I agree with using different reverbs for different tracks to help create layers, depth or character
but a final global reverb can also be useful for unifying disparate tracks to place them in the same landscape.

This is a great point.  I was just listening and giving some critical comments on an album where a track sounds like there's 2 layers that just don't seem to live in the same space for the track.   One sound is very heavy on the reverb and the other is nearly bone dry and the sound makes it stick out even further.   Later in the track - the blending becomes really nice as the artist brings in multiple layers of the synth patch - and it's a little detuned and delay comes in... it's just the "getting started" part.

Adding some depth to the bone dry track will help it blend with the thicker deeper drone.   Adding an overall reverb might fix that track - or it might muddy up the drone.   Both are worth trying.



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LNerell

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #21 on: January 12, 2010, 11:28:20 AM »
I think what I will do for future music is instead of applying reverb right away, I will hold on until most of the piece is finished, and then apply reverb and delays where needed.

Just wanted to point out that their is nothing wrong with applying reverb right away or waiting until then end, its really about what works for you. I know Steve Roach tends to apply all his effects on each track as he thinks of it as part of the sound. I tend to put reverb on at the end as I tend to think of the recording as a space in which to put things, adding different amounts and different kinds of reverbs creates the space.

You also mentioned using shorter reverbs, if the long verbs are washing everything out, you could instead push the reverbs farther back in the mix, you still get the spaciousness without loosing the detail.

Also, as Scott said, you could have a global reverb, I tend to do that using one of my higher end verbs like my Sony R7 or now my Ursa Major, and then using my other verbs to add depth or to change the space of a particular sound.

Listening to other ambient recordings can be good, but I would suggest maybe starting with something a little simpler, like a good old pop/rock record. When I taught recording I use to make my students listen to Dark Side of The Moon, because its not as dense as most modern recordings, it's just a good album with lots of space using mostly just room reverb to create it.
Take care.

- Loren Nerell

jkn

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #22 on: January 12, 2010, 11:50:33 AM »
I'm on the "effects are part of the sound" side of the fence...   I rarely add effects later. 

I've done some experiments where I've added things later on - but 90% of the time I'm much more comfortable making the effects "part of the sound".

What I really want to start experimenting with is kicking out a dry signal to a track along with the wet signal - so that I capture both the raw dry sound and what I'm hearing as I play.   I don't know if it'll be useful - or just take up space on my hard drive.  Something I've been planning to try.
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triksterb

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #23 on: January 12, 2010, 11:58:09 AM »
jkn: That is a great technique!  I did something similar where I made a 5 minute piece out of a <1 second click sample.  I just put layer upon layer with different reverb, eq, etc. settings every time and it worked pretty well.  I also have a special set in Live where it's just 5 tracks and 5 sends all with different effects on them, and the initial audio signal goes through all the tracks and sends and comes out sounding nothing like the original, and in this set, the effects are definitely the main part of the sound.  It usually sounds a lot like Steve Roach, which is great.

Scott:  I like that idea.  I've never put anything on the master channel, but maybe I'll try it out and see how it sounds.

LNerell:  Those are all good points.  I have also listened to Dark Side Of The Moon a thousand times, and I do remember liking how all the instruments mesh together so well, so I will have to listen to see how it sounds on my monitors.

I will play around with reverb settings.  I think part of the problem is that usually I put reverb on an audio track, but then the audio goes to a send that has another reverb, so it tends to muddy up the sound.  However, I never thought of EQuing the reverb on the audio track, so I am definitely going to try that.

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #24 on: January 12, 2010, 11:59:02 AM »
There's a lot to using reverberation correctly, and the deeper you go, the more people need to understand the various components and what they do.  Early reflections, decay time, predelay, various band decays, and "more" on some algorithms.

When people lose definition using hall presets, it's usually due to the immediate onset of the tail without any separation between the source sound and the reverberation.  On top of that start building up around the 300-500 Hz range, and you've got a huge mess on your hands.
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triksterb

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #25 on: January 12, 2010, 02:44:01 PM »
Yeah, I've been learning with Live's Reverb how it works, and I understand a lot about how to design them now.  Now I just have to make them complement each other.

Also, I just tried the global reverb tip, and it worked pretty well.  Thanks for the tip!

Austere

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #26 on: January 14, 2010, 07:38:09 PM »

One 'trick' I've used several times is to take a copy of a take that I like - and then I'd mess with it - either feed it back out to hardware or change it in software.  Then layer that copy back into the song - moving it slightly in panning or volume - or only bring it in in spots to thicken and add interest.

Heh, we do this all the time as well! We even do it with DJ'ing - send to outboard gear, change it up, bring it back in at a different volume and/or w/slight delay. Definitely adds interest, and often people ask if we're playing a different mix than the original they know.

Quote
I also like controlled feedback loops... where I'll take a synth or drum machine or whatever into a channel on the mixer - and then go out to a delay through the fx loop - that return of that fx will be to a new channel - which in turn can then feedback into the original effect or feed out a 2nd fx loop - which the 2nd fx loop returns back to a new channel...  some very interesting and fun sounds can develop from multiple feedback loops crossing over into each other.   

Of course - you can let it hit a screeching ear and speaker piercing howl quite quickly - so the "controlled" part of the phrase "controlled feedback" is really key!   :-)

Not to mention damage those ears or speakers! This is why we like the HR824 monitors' auto-limiters as well as putting in a limiter in the loop when we do this. We have a Line-6 DL-4 Delay/Looper we need to replace but we're keeping the glitchy one because while it sounds awful much of the time, every now and then it freaks out in a way that's extremely cool - but also something you want a compressor/limiter running on!


Scott M2

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #27 on: January 15, 2010, 11:48:04 AM »
When using Live live placing a Compressor II module as a limiter (you can just use the limiter preset and adjust the threshold to minus 1 or 2 db)
as the last element in the Master bus is a great way to help tame unwanted digital distortions when things are getting out of hand or getting too much fun!
(I'm still using Live 5, so the names of things may have changed since then.)

darkenedsoul

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #28 on: January 15, 2010, 03:51:06 PM »
I'm on the "effects are part of the sound" side of the fence...   I rarely add effects later. 

I've done some experiments where I've added things later on - but 90% of the time I'm much more comfortable making the effects "part of the sound".

What I really want to start experimenting with is kicking out a dry signal to a track along with the wet signal - so that I capture both the raw dry sound and what I'm hearing as I play.   I don't know if it'll be useful - or just take up space on my hard drive.  Something I've been planning to try.


Have you looked at using SIR 1011 version (the free one) and some convolutions? I bought all 3 discs from Spirit Canyon awhile ago and that's pretty much what I use on a lot of my tracks, pick a track in Live with clips, put one SIR and one convolution, next track do the same, 3rd track etc... then then just work through the clips after I have them pretty much sorted in order I want to play them in. 

I do want to start looking into routing audio thru a send and back to original track or to another audio track as input and just mess things up to see what I come up with at some point. Just have to keep a limiter on master out to keep from blowing out speakers/ears.

Blackinfinity

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #29 on: January 15, 2010, 04:16:42 PM »
doing ambient music with convolution reverb with ambient music is really not a good idea.. ... unless you like the sound of static/grainy/muddy non-modulated reverbs. If you would ask me a couple of years ago and you had an extreme budget, I would had recommend impulses, but really now this technology is obsolete, the algorithmic budget reverbs of today sounds many times better in most situations.

The only thing I know where Convolution is useful is when simulating speaker cabinets often used in virtual guitar amp simulations, I have tried the best and most superior impulses of Acousticas...I was not impressed at all...
An Algoritmic reverb is far superior...and is what you should have, I would recommend wave arts Masterverb 5 as an budget alternative or in worst case EOS if you can't afford more. 

I have not tried the Ableton reverb or any built-in Ableton plugins, cause I have already have a huge collection of professional plugins already, and I highly doubt the reverb is useful for ambient music, it works probably good for dance/trance music and that kind of stuff.

triksterb

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #30 on: January 15, 2010, 05:00:44 PM »
I have not tried the Ableton reverb or any built-in Ableton plugins, cause I have already have a huge collection of professional plugins already, and I highly doubt the reverb is useful for ambient music, it works probably good for dance/trance music and that kind of stuff.

Yeah, every opinion I've read about Live's reverb is pretty negative, and you should only use it if you want an obvious reverb sound.  I used it for years, and then I downloaded the free TC electronic reverb from a couple weeks ago.  It may be more simple than Live's, but it sounds much better and blends much better.  Since then, I bought Blueverb from Audiomidi as a no brainer deal, and even though it does have a distinct sound, it still sounds better than Live's reverb to me.  The rest of the Live effects are fine, though I'm not a fan of the autofilter, but I don't have another one to compare it to.

False Mirror

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #31 on: January 17, 2010, 05:17:57 PM »
Yeah Reverb is definetly a science of it's own. Last year I developed my own one and it took me quite a long time.

Regarding mixing: I always think I'm using too much of the low end. I think it sounds right on my tracks, but if I compare them to most other Ambient/Dark Ambient tracks, I realize that I usually have much more low frequencies in it. The reason I do that is because I really like the absolutely calming feeling a deep bass drone has (at least on me). I can fall asleep much better on Ambient tracks which have more of the low end.

Another thing considering the mixing of bass is stereo width. In my home studio, everything sounds right when I'm sitting in the sweet spot between my monitors. But as soon as I move around, I can clearly hear the stereo phase difference between the left and right speaker. Hence I tend to make the bass almost mono and it sounds fine.
How do you handle that? Or do you leave that up to the mastering engineer?

triksterb

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #32 on: January 17, 2010, 08:24:26 PM »
I'm the same way.  I like music with more bass then music that uses higher frequencies due to my ears being more sensitive to them. 

I did learn recently in Ableton Live about EQ8's mode selector.  It has Stereo, Left/Right, and Mid/Side.  Mid/Side is great; usually I would put it on either a bass heavy track or on the master and put the bass in almost mono that way, and if the bass track went to a send, I would just eq the send to not have as much bass in it.  I haven't sent anything to a mastering engineer yet, though; I'm just trying to learn about this kind of stuff myself.

Altus

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #33 on: January 19, 2010, 05:32:14 AM »
Hence I tend to make the bass almost mono and it sounds fine.
I tend to do the same thing for when I testing the final mix on headphones.  I usually bring it in around 50-65% to keep those bass tones closer to centre.
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triksterb

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #34 on: January 19, 2010, 12:36:45 PM »
Alright, now some more questions.

This tip of mixing bass in mono is great, as I can hear the stereo spectrum clearer.  So how do you all apply the mono trick?  Do you put a plugin on the master which takes all the bass of all the tracks and puts it in the center, or do you apply the plugin to only the most bass prominent tracks and leave the more subtle bass frequencies alone on other tracks?  I'm thinking the second way is better so you get a fuller sound, but the first way may actually be better because then it doesn't sound as muddy, but then you lose interest in the stereo spectrum(maybe).

Obviously it depends on what the piece sounds like, but since most of my music is heavy on the bass, this might be a vital tip to making it sound better.

LNerell

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #35 on: January 20, 2010, 09:41:39 AM »
Itís pretty easy, pan bass heavy tracks to center position. I wouldn't use any plugins to pan all bass frequencies to center, you'll probably end up causing more issues with phasing.
Take care.

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triksterb

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #36 on: January 20, 2010, 08:23:41 PM »
That makes sense, since it gives you more control.  It's kind of funny; I always thought of mixing in mono as a bad thing, but there are certain advantages to it.

Ok, yet another question for the thread: when to use compression?  I've noticed lately on a few albums that if there are some synth chords playing usually it's drenched in reverb to make it sound more ethereal.  However, the reverb never completely dominates the song; you can hear every detail of it, but it isn't louder than whatever else is going on.  In my music, sometimes the reverb can go out of control, so I have to turn down the volume to compensate, but then the quieter parts will disappear.  I'll have to experiment with compression on the end of my effect chains, but in the meantime, does anyone use compression on any tracks in their music?

Austere

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #37 on: January 21, 2010, 12:48:34 AM »
We'll drop tricks we use and then unsub from this thread before too many people try to say how our simplistic ways of dealing w/bass won't work (but try them - they work great.)

Two easy ways to get the low end of your track the way you want:

1. Just EQ the damned thing. Get a good HW or SW EQ and learn to use it correctly.  This is the way to go if you're not recording/mixing digitally, w/a HW EQ. "Sound shaping" with a graphic EQ used to be a music engineering science.

2. Break your track into two segments using a low-pass and high-pass brickwall filter. Figure out where the bass end needs to be cut into a separate track, fix it, then remix the two. This is a way to go if you're recording/mixing digitally.

Of course, the first is too obvious for the experts on the forum, and the latter you will be told doesn't work, "will create 'this' or 'that' problem" but we do it some times, and just completely demixed and fixed up the low end of a track of another Hypnos artist who was very happy with the results. Remember, once it's digital, it's all just bits and you can make it do anything you want. Good luck!  ;D

Austere

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #38 on: January 21, 2010, 02:44:58 AM »
Why are we 'ho-bags for verbal punishment?   ???  So disclaimer to all "Mastering Engineers" - one of us has been doing it for 12+ years. Labels like Beta-lactam Ring, Kranky, Eclipse, and others. So talk down on us all you want, but we, like you, have our ways. Mastering Engineers who think they have the "right and only answer" are, in our experience, poor ones. Open-minded engineers are the folks who produce the good stuff.

To those who are trying to learn: don't listen to any advice on this thread without taking into account that the ultimate answer is: what do you like, what sounds right to you, and what works for you (say you have limited gear, for example)? You are the one who gets to decide what's "right" or not, not matter what "experts" say.

OK, doing bass in mono is great, but great ambient has to be stereo. Even if Robert Rich is not to your taste, we'd recommend picking up a couple of CDs from his first Hypnos (re?) release to his upcoming CD (March 2010.) You'll see how important stereo is to making ambient really put you in a different headspace.

So triksterb asked another great question which should be its own thread: when to use compression? And like this one, the answers you'll get are: never, sometimes, depends, always. Or simplified: a million answers that only confuse, each of which is both totally wrong and right at the same time (think "Zen".)

We don't use compression very often (but on rare occasions) - we program and tweak every reverb custom to every track to get that "ethereal sound" (when we want it) so we don't need to worry about that. Programming it to come in at the same levels is work but we like it better than trying to compress before or after. Compression is a major bee-atch (we own an RNC, a classic dbx, and 10 SW compressors) so we save it for vocals and our one synth that can go from 0 to 11 playing a patch in a millisecond - and that's more limiting than compression.

We compress DJ mixes but only because the limiter on the Zoom 400 digital recorder is harsh and the compression is actually quite good.

If your reverb is getting out of control but you lose the quiet parts:

0. Always keep a completely dry mix/track to work on.
1. You can run it through 'verb twice - get the quiet stuff on one track, the compressed stuff on another, then mix just like wet/dry on any effect, to your liking.
2. You can get reverbs that will effect certain freq. ranges which you'll find often are where the "quiet parts" come from, then effect the rest in the more forceful way you want.
3. Lastly, you can use reverbs for other effects - which is why the best answer is your own: "I'll have to experiment..." but do it with 1-2 reverbs (to start, at least.)

And don't forget that reverbs in "ambient" musick can be used like an instrument - our upcoming CD has a track where we used four reverb "passes" over a track: first to get the basic sound; second to extenuate what we liked and lower what we didn't (multi-band 'verb); third to create an echo/beating sound by over-driving it like a whore; fourth to smooth everything out to (hopeful) mellowness.

OK, we'll shut up now. Our advice taken best with much grains of salt, value two cents circa 1970 GBP. Feel free to ignore or take the piss outta us.

jkn

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #39 on: January 21, 2010, 06:56:30 AM »
Austere said some really great things.  (quit threatening to unsub will ya?)

I'll sum up what I think are the key things if you're just starting out...

Experiment.   Listen.   Repeat.

Get your toes wet.  Some of the advice on this thread may be totally over your head, or way behind you depending on how long you've been at it.   It'll start coming together and making sense the more you sit down and do it.   Be sure to listen to your tracks on more than your phones or monitors... get the mix out of the studio and into your car, stereo, boombox, earbuds, etc...
John Koch-Northrup .: jkn [AT] johei.com .: owner / artist .: http://relaxedmachinery.com .: http://twitter.com/jkn .: http://flickr.com/johei