Author Topic: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?  (Read 16755 times)

LNerell

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #40 on: January 21, 2010, 01:29:21 PM »
Feel free to ignore or take the piss outta us.

I will do neither as its all good/interesting advice. Heck I'm even going to try some of your ideas.  :)

I use to tell my students that anything I show them is not the way, but a way of doing something. The best way is the way that works for you, so try different things and see what you like.
Take care.

- Loren Nerell

Austere

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #41 on: January 21, 2010, 01:47:29 PM »

Feel free to ignore or take the piss outta us.

I will do neither as its all good/interesting advice. Heck I'm even going to try some of your ideas.  :)

Thanks. We got tired of the whole "Lexicon goes SW" thread where all sorts of self-proclaimed experts were laying down the law (and one did take the piss via PM.)

We just don't want to be associated with that type of outlook or opinion, yeah?


I use to tell my students that anything I show them is not the way, but a way of doing something. The best way is the way that works for you, so try different things and see what you like.

Yes, very much exactly our "Zen" approach, esp. the "you must follow your own path." Cheers!

P.S. The other half of our wee duo is much less a crank than this git. Apologies for grump.  :'(

Sunbreak Music

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #42 on: January 21, 2010, 04:54:24 PM »
Lol.
Cass Anawaty, Mastering Engineer
www.sunbreakmusic.com

triksterb

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #43 on: January 21, 2010, 06:15:15 PM »
I agree with a lot of things in the past few posts.  It's definitely a good thing to experiment with things to see how they work.  Throughout however long this thread has been going on, I have noticed my workflow having a different process to it, and my music has started to sound better to me.  For all I know, it was fine before, and I'm just being too nitpicky about it right now.  But you need to have a certain standard that you yourself live up to, and I am getting closer to my personal standard.

I may be a moderate beginner (well, more advanced now) but I have some tips of my own for any real beginner who is reading this:

1.  Experiment with everything you have.  Spend at least an hour a day just doing random things, like making an effect chain or making a patch on your synth.

2.  Put some effort into it.  Don't be that 15 year old kid in high school who came up to me one day and goes "You like ambient, right?", hands me a cd with a 30 minute track on it with some ridiculous over the top title, and it was just him holding down 2 chords for 30 minutes using a preset from his no doubt illegally downloaded synth from NI.  Don't record yourself tuning your guitar and call it ambient; case in point
(somewhere, someone made a demo that sounded like this)

3.  You don't need a lot of gear.  I have a laptop, midi keyboard, Ableton Live, and Absynth 4.  That's it.  I get by fine using just these things because I know how to use them to their full ability.  It's like what Lustmord says on his forum over and over again to people asking about big expensive pieces of gear, "It's not about what tools you have, it's how you use them."

4.  If something doesn't work, and you spend a lot of time trying to make it work, then it's never going to work.  I did this last night; had a 2 year old song that I never really liked because of one particular sound, so I replaced it with another sound, and it sounded completely different and a million times better and I wished I had done it sooner instead of trying to make it work for 2 years.

Alright, I hope that helps some people who are just starting out.  I would like to thank everybody in this thread for helping me out; this thread has been invaluable for me the past few weeks.  If anyone would like to share another cool trick, please, by all means, do so.


False Mirror

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #44 on: January 21, 2010, 07:02:10 PM »
Totally agreeing with all of your points.
Actually I'm anything else than a beginner - I had started making music maybe 15yrs ago and my first record was released about 7 yrs ago, but I'm always trying to develop my music, because there is always room for improvement and development.

This actually hasn't to do with mixing, but I'd say a very important point is the ability to discard stuff. I think it's always good to have a healthy rate of wastage. If you discard too many ideas, it is an indicator that you should develop further in the current direction, if you discard too few ideas, you probably should try another direction.

Another point is time and experience. Many people think they just click through a few video-tutorials on Youtube, sit down and make a track. Well that might actually work, but it's nothing you created as there was no real creative process involved. Art needs time, you need to find the one thing within yourself that wants to communicate through music, you need to find your own way (like Loren already posted).
The more experience you have, the more work you already did, the easier it is for you to get things done.

But now back to the mixing topic:
I think for genres like Ambient or other genres of electronic music, the mixing is already an integral part of sound design and maybe also the arrangement. Right now I'm sitting on a new track, not really Ambient to be honest, but something similar (Ambient Dub Techno).
My workflow is/was like that:
1.) Started with sound design for a major chord sound of the track.
2.) Experimented with different chords.
3.) Created a 8-bar loop with the rhythmic chord.
4.) Sound design for a bass drum, which I built upon an older bass drum patch.
5.) Adding another chord sound, I made in a previous, unfinished song and tweak it (EQ, Filter) to fit into the current track.
6.) Creating a hihat from a recording of static noise I recorded previously, creating a drum pattern for it.
7.) Adding some high-pitched effect sound from an unused previous track.
8.) Tweaking the stereo image of those high-pitched sounds.
9.) Adding a bass sound "wuuup" from a previous track, but adjusted with filter and EQ.
10.) Started working on a second chord sound.
11.) Adding another bass sound.
12.) Adding more high-pitched sounds I made from a recording of breaking a pencil (I made this recording years ago...)
13.) Adjusting the chords again. Adding Effects.
14.) Setting up my controllers and perform a live arrangement.
15.) Listening to the live arrangement, deciding to add another chord.
16.) Listening again. The filter of the new chord goes to high.
17.) Listening again.
18.) Listening again.
19.) Listening again.
20.) Listening again. The Hihat is too loud.
21.) Listening again.
22.) Listening again.
23.) Listening again.
24.) Listening again. Adding a cool drone to the beginning I used on my new CD.
25.==now) Listening again


So another point to add:
Listen. Listen. Listen.
Really listen to your music a lot, listen in different states of mind, listen at different times, listen on different equipment, on different volumes, etc...


Cheers
« Last Edit: January 21, 2010, 07:17:15 PM by False Mirror »

Austere

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #45 on: January 21, 2010, 08:38:37 PM »

For all I know, it was fine before, and I'm just being too nitpicky about it right now.  But you need to have a certain standard that you yourself live up to, and I am getting closer to my personal standard.

That's one thing that we'd say is a rule: never compromise your own vision; always live up to your own standards!

Quote

1.  Experiment with everything you have.  Spend at least an hour a day just doing random things, like making an effect chain or making a patch on your synth.

This and the rest is awesome advice. Kudos!

Quote

If anyone would like to share another cool trick, please, by all means, do so.

Here's another fave of ours:

Take a track, and try to find the major freq. ranges that it covers. Use notch filters to break up the single track into 5-8 tracks, each covering part of the 20-22Khz spectrum. Mix them back together, but offset them with a very tiny delay, and play with how much you delay each freq. range.  You can get some very cool, sometimes trippy, effects this way. Can be a lot of work, but when it works out, it can make an ambient piece sound huge.

We're uploading tracks to SoundCloud.com - will upload a track from our "Curio" CD ("Dwine") that we used that technique. That way people can decide if they want to bother and if this kind of thing is to their taste - because it takes a lot of time to get right.

Austere

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #46 on: January 21, 2010, 08:44:33 PM »

This actually hasn't to do with mixing, but I'd say a very important point is the ability to discard stuff. I think it's always good to have a healthy rate of wastage. If you discard too many ideas, it is an indicator that you should develop further in the current direction, if you discard too few ideas, you probably should try another direction.

Given how you can get a 500GB USB drive for $90 shipped these days, we'd say that instead of wastage, we just "attic" pieces and let them collect dust. And sure enough, we'll come across something we did years before that suddenly works with what we're doing now, just not then. So we'd say that abandoning tracks that just aren't coming together is great advice, but put them away somewhere and revisit them periodically. Can't hurt, can it?

Of course, the key point is not to flog yourself when things aren't working. Buy a deck of Eno's "Oblique Strategies" and use them!

Or also, just take some time off - our Muses come and go, visiting for brief to long periods of time. Learn when you need to take a break.

Quote

20.) Listening again. The Hihat is too loud.

Hahahah!  ;D Been there, just did that last night...  :P

triksterb

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #47 on: January 21, 2010, 09:24:20 PM »
False Mirror:  Listening to a track everywhere is a great idea.  I've been doing that recently, and have found certain things here and there that need to be fixed, but I will need to learn my reference points before I make any major changes to the songs.

Austere: Thanks!  That is the kind of thing I love to do; just trying weird little tricks that in any other genre would probably sound bad, but changes the sound a lot in ambient.  I can visualize how to do it in Live, so later tonight I will try it out.  I'd love to hear that track!

Another tip for beginners: be original, or at least try to sound different than the majority of ambient.  I've been working on incorporating textures and huge sounding drones with glitch/breakcore elements, and it sounds pretty cool to me.  Sometimes though, the glitch elements don't always work out, so you have to be prepared to just remove them if they don't really work.

Paul Vnuk (Ma Ja Le)

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #48 on: January 21, 2010, 09:31:48 PM »
Some good stuff and ideas happening here.

Some things I do:

When stuck on a mix...save it as a new version, and zero out everything, all faders zero, all effects gone, all EQ back to zero, all compressors off...and start again sometimes you will get to a new place.

Also along these lines is a trick I learned from a Danile Lanois / Brian Eno article: Do quick 15 minute mixes, get crazy, try many different things, take risks, print all of them and after about 4 or 5 take time and listen to them and see what emerges.

Paul
"I liken good ambient to good poetry ... enjoyable, often powerful, and usually unpopular" APK

ffcal

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #49 on: January 21, 2010, 11:00:24 PM »
This actually hasn't to do with mixing, but I'd say a very important point is the ability to discard stuff. I think it's always good to have a healthy rate of wastage. If you discard too many ideas, it is an indicator that you should develop further in the current direction, if you discard too few ideas, you probably should try another direction.

Many good ideas here.  I agree with this one especially.  As Austere pointed out, mothballing is a decent option, too.  There may be a good germ of an idea that does not sustain itself over 6 minutes, but may make a good 1-2 minute transitional section or added layer to a different piece much further down the road.  Another problem with not critically self-editing one's output is that you make the listener work too hard to find the good stuff.

Forrest

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #50 on: January 22, 2010, 05:48:19 AM »
Here's another fave of ours:

Take a track, and try to find the major freq. ranges that it covers. Use notch filters to break up the single track into 5-8 tracks, each covering part of the 20-22Khz spectrum. Mix them back together, but offset them with a very tiny delay, and play with how much you delay each freq. range.  You can get some very cool, sometimes trippy, effects this way. Can be a lot of work, but when it works out, it can make an ambient piece sound huge.

....people can decide if they want to bother and if this kind of thing is to their taste - because it takes a lot of time to get right.

And dependent on the sounds you are cutting up this way sometimes comparatively large differences of time shifting can create some very interesting soundscapes - totally transforming it into something else.

Something that is good for experimenting is having at least some of your equipment set up for quick and easy use. That way if you've got a few minutes you can just noodle around with ideas and sounds - sometimes the end result (ie track or album) can be affected immensely by what you are doing before even switching on......

I think for me it is like drumming  - If I just focus on the beat or phrase I am currently playing I lose the whole picture  - what I am mixing at the end of my creative process is often part of what I am thinking about as I start (whilst allowing and encouraging chaos, experimentation and changes of direction).

jkn

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Re: What are the tips and secrets of mixing ambient music?
« Reply #51 on: January 22, 2010, 07:15:50 AM »

I have so many unfinished songs in my archives - that it's hilarious.   Experiments that I never intended to play anyone - but I wanted to tinker with a particular method or process or piece of gear. 

I like to make "rules" for myself from time to time...  whether it's recording with only a specific instrument, or leaving out my "go to favorite" synth or effect, or writing in a style that I don't normally write in.   It opens me up for new ideas - new techniques when I come back to what I really want to write.

My archive did come in major play on one track - which if by chance you were on the StillStream launch party for me label last weekend you got to slog through about 10 minutes of me explaining what all went into that piece and how essentially all of it came out of my archive as a collage (my one and only collage piece) - and how it made total sense for the track (which is called "Marco Polo" and is meant to be a self portrait in sound.)

Otherwise - my archive is basically just there and I toss things on once in a great while - they usually spark my interest to recording something new. 

Just like my photos...  I certainly don't post every picture I take.    It's the same with my music - I don't share every track I write.   Having the ability to edit myself is important.

John Koch-Northrup .: jkn [AT] johei.com .: owner / artist .: http://relaxedmachinery.com .: http://twitter.com/jkn .: http://flickr.com/johei