Old 08-05-2019, 08:36 PM   #1
KenB
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Default My Tracks Are Always Boomy

I make ambient music using VSTI's and I'm currently using SPC ArcSyn. These are just little one track sketches using one VSTI that I use to search for ideas.

Lots of times ... irrespective of the VSTI ... I end up with boomy tracks. I've rarely had success getting the boominess under control.

In a general sense ... how would you suggest I order my plugin's to address this problem?

I'm thinking of this order ... I'm asking because I've never been sure what the sequence should be.

1. VSTI
2. EQ
3. Compressor or limiter
4. EQ
5. Reverb
6. Limiter

Any other ideas?

KenB
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Old 08-05-2019, 09:34 PM   #2
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Boy one could spend a lot of time reading and trying to understand this topic. So it's tough to just summarize in something easily digestible on a forum, but I'll try and offer some advice from someone who struggled with this for years, and finally is putting out some music that sounds much clearer.

You might want to also put a link to a sample song, as some people with better ears than yours truly can possibly identify what needs to be done to help your mix.

Oh and before I forget, your effects order looks fine by me, as a general rule of thumb.

Anyways a few things that I started doing that helped:

- There's some debate on whether it's necessary or not, but I start with a clean VSTi, no effects whatsoever, and I try to keep every track at around -18dBFS on average. I keep the faders at 0, and adjust the volume on the VSTi to get to where the track is averaging -18dbFS. This is something that several tutorials on gain staging suggest. This was initially to ensure you weren't distorting things right out of the gate, but I think at one point Kenny Gioia or someone debunked that and said that with digital audio, the distortion isn't a concern until the very end of your chain (for lack of a better explanation my limited knowledge can make). In other words, you could blast the crap out of the VSTi right out of the gate, and if you had an EQ later that dropped the gain way low, you wouldn't hear any distortion. Anyways, I still follow this rule of thumb anyways, because I think it's helped me focus on the important part of having a good starting point in volume for all my tracks in a song. Kinda like a baseline for everything, and then I make slight adjustments later on to faders when I think something needs to be quieter or louder.
- I try to keep my master mix averaging below around -3 as well, although some people go even lower than that. Part of the purpose of this and the last point (called gain staging) is to give yourself a lot of "head room" later for mastering.
- When you initially EQ, you probably want to do subtractive EQ (aka cutting)....
- If your tracks sound really bassy, there's probably a lot of low end in sections you don't need it. You obviously need a lot of it in your kick, and your bass, and some in your snare, and you'll need a lot less of it everywhere else. High Pass Filtering really helps in this regard. You want to make space for everything, but a HPF goes a long way to let your bass sounds (kick, bass) do the bass, not your lead synth, and such.
- There are frequencies that just add mud and clutter your mix - 200-500Hz. Don't do any boosting in those frequency ranges, as that will generally give you sore ears. You won't necessarily want to cut these frequencies either... you'll have to use your ears here. Note, this is just a general rule of thumb (like a lot of what I'm saying), not concrete. Use discretion
- Your kick and your bass samples will often occupy a lot of the same space if you don't EQ right. There are good articles out there on how to do this properly to make space for each other. I tend to make room in the low low end of my kick for my sub bass, but some people prefer the kick to dominate the lowest frequencies. It can also vary from song to song.
- No doubt, as a producer of electronic music, you are aware of sidechain compression, I'm sure, but if not, understand that concept when it comes to kick - bass interaction.
- I generally now have a bass buss where I mix a couple basses in. One is purely a sub bass (something like a mildly distorted sine wave, low octave), and then one or two other basses that help make the bass sound good on crappy speakers (something 1 or 2 octaves higher than the sub bass). I tend to prefer a little buzziness in the sample used for those. I compress them all together in the bass bus.
- I'm way behind on this, but I finally learned about and started to use OTT compression. It's pretty handy.. so research that, if you aren't already using it. OTT works pretty amazingly on a sub bass, BTW. I find those sub basses tend to be low volume when deep down, and then kinda hit louder on higher notes. OTT compression, when done right, makes all those notes sound the same volume. OTT isn't just for subs though, FYI.. far from it.
- Use up all that left/right space too. Typically, I keep the bassy stuff down the middle, and the trebly stuff wider, as a rule of thumb. As tip, you can doing things to make your song sound wider/clear... make your synths (leads/rhythm) wider by hard panning left and then duplicating it and hard panning right.. and add some very slight delay to one side, or do something on the duplicate to give it a slightly different sound so that your brain doesn't just mix it down the middle again, such as detune it a bit, or pick a different preset, or something of that nature.


Anyways, that's all for now.. I could go on for a while. I've read so much on this subject lately. I still have a lot to learn though, but I think I've made huge progress this year in making things sound a bit better. Hopefully something in this rant stands out to help you in some way.

My songs used to be super muddy, but the gain staging part and the subtractive eq'ing have probably been the biggest factors in improving sound quality for my stuff.

Last edited by nait; 08-05-2019 at 09:46 PM.
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Old 08-06-2019, 08:14 AM   #3
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Tough to say without being there, but my first thoughts are that either 1) your room has low frequency troughs causing you to add more low end than necessary, or 2) your headphones are light in the low end causing you to add more low end than you need.

Is your room treated? How are you listening to your projects as you track and mix them? Where do you find that they are too boomy (ear buds, headphones, car stereo, PA system, etc.)?
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Old 08-06-2019, 06:11 PM   #4
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I think 'room' as well!
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Old 08-06-2019, 06:14 PM   #5
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I agree with above that room/environment is a contributor... Before attacking that, try throwing a couple of reference tracks to compare your mixes to in real-time.

I believe, if you know your room well, and you know how "good sounding" mixes sound in it, you can do a great deal of compensation with your own ears for free
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Old 08-07-2019, 03:00 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KenB View Post
I make ambient music using VSTI's
Could I ask, what kind of ambient music? Lots of sub-genres... Not that it matters too much with regards to you question and I am more interested from my own point of view, being a creator of ambient stuff myself (more drone, pretty much beat-less). Then again, perhaps it does matter...


With regards to your list, I typically go;

1) VSTi
2) EQ

I never limit or compress individual tracks.

I set up busses for reverb, delay and other effects as needed. On those busses I add more EQ.

My EQ is FabFilter Pro-Q 3.

Okay, I should confess that Pro-Q 3 now has a form of dynamic control, but without the same as a compressor or limiter. I use it to watch for resonant peaks and apply a narrow dynamic cut at that point. It seems to work quite well.

I use Adaptiverb quite a lot and that is notorious for setting up resonances, especially the way I work with it, so Pro-Q 3 has really helped with that.


Some mentions here of "room" but you do not mention how you monitor your session. Do you listen with headphones? Or do you have speakers of some sort? Or both?

I will probably be treated with disdain for saying this, but unless you have a fair amount of cash to throw around, I would forget room treatment. It is an absolute nightmare to get right unless you manage to build a room from scratch and design properly right from the start.


I use a pair of audio-technica ATH-M50x headphones at the moment and I also have a pair of KRK KNS 8400 cans. Both are around the same in terms of response.

I also use a pair of Tannoy Active Reveal nearfield monitors but the bass response is not that good below 50Hz.

My room is too small to set up properly and is why I mention room treatment... Impossible for me.

So I mix mainly on my headphones, but that gets tiring so I also use my nearfields, on low-ish volume when I can. But always headphones for checking critical details.

Perhaps you do the same... I am not familiar with you or your setup Ken.


Bottom line, though, assuming you get this far, is I use Voxengo SPAN on the master bus, and sometimes on individual tracks. I have set it up to suit me, in terms of response/speed and stuff and I am now happy with using it to determine if I am running in to trouble, frequency wise.

So I think that something like SPAN is what is missing out of your list, followed by using your EQ VST to tame any resonant frequencies.


cheers

andy
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Old 08-07-2019, 04:20 AM   #7
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Surely if its ambient --- it would be in the box --- the room shouldn't come into it.
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Old 08-07-2019, 09:35 AM   #8
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I tend to think very logically. Too much boom, remove/control boominess from the sound elements. Not enough high end, add more high end. Synth too plucky, control the transient.
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Old 08-07-2019, 11:29 AM   #9
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The easiest way to get the spectrum right is to compare your track to commercial tracks of a similar genre and instrumentation.

By A/Bing at the same volume (you will need to turn the commercial track way down usually) you will instantly hear whether there is too much low end.

Make sure you have more than one reference track to A/B against.
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Old 08-07-2019, 02:55 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KenB View Post
...Lots of times ... irrespective of the VSTI ... I end up with boomy tracks. I've rarely had success getting the boominess under control...
1) How are you monitoring when mixing? Speakers? Headphones?

2) Are you judging the resulting boominess on a different playback system than the one you use when mixing?
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Old 08-07-2019, 03:04 PM   #11
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*You could try starting with the kick drum and bass gtr, put the free plug Voxengo Span on the kick drum track and observe where the peak is consistently loudest, e.g around the 80 -100hZ area.

Then do the same with the bass gtr track, e.g the peak might be most consistent at around 180 - 200 hZ

Then use an EQ plug, one on each track, to notch out those frequencies of the OTHER track i.e notch out 180 - 200 hZ from the kick drum, and notch out 80 - 100 hZ from the bass gtr.

This creates frequency windows that allows each to show through and shouldn't diminish the quality of either.

Also, band compression can help with boomy bass gtr, I'm not saying my mixes are very good but they're not boomy, I've been using ReaXcomp on bass gtr which has helped a lot with overall clarity.


* Caution, dude relaying this advice hasn't sold many records
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Old 08-07-2019, 05:01 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sambo Rouge View Post
Surely if its ambient --- it would be in the box --- the room shouldn't come into it.
Sure, but if you listen with speakers it could be boomy, and mostly due to the room.

A few thoughts and suggestions for KenB. Some of this has already been mentioned but needs reiterating because the cart has to go before the horse. IOW, certain solutions really wouldn't apply unless the things leading up to that point are covered.

What happens if you play, through the same chain including Reaper, other commercial ambient tracks that are sonically similar to yours? Through speakers? And also headphones?

What happens if you take your track and play it elsewhere?

Have to determine how much to blame on the track and how much on the speakers or room.

Some sounds/VSTIs get their big low end by a cranking up of the plugins whole low freq range with a wide band or even total tilting up of the entire low end below x hz. Sounds huge but instant boom when used in track. Put an extra eq fx on a VSTI that's ending up boomy and cut out or notch sharply between 80hz and all the way down, and sweep the frequency to hear the results to find out where it takes out lows that you need and where it takes out lows that you don't. Don't be shy about tamping down the low-low end of an instrument that is supplying bottom because once it gets compressed and/or limited, either in the track itself or the master, you may not miss it at all.

Also, play your track through the speakers and eq a freq below 80hz down and up, and move the freq around. Does it seem as if adding 2 db there makes it sound as if you've added 6 db? That would be a sign your room is resonating sympathetically to that area. If so, that makes it hard to make good judgments about how much low end you should have.

One thing to know is that ever since dynamic eqs, where you could raise a freq way up but then have it pushed back down if it exceeded a certain level, became readily available to DAW users and not just an expensive mastering tool, genres like ambient started using them all over the place. Same effect as using a multi band limiter after an eq. Imagine boosting a singer at 8khz because it made it overall better, and then not only not boosting at sibilant parts but pushing the 8khz down when it exceeded a threshold. That's what some big low end synth sounds get, but with a low eq boost that gets pushed down when it detects will cross over into boominess and fixes it. So if you're comparing your track's low end to a highly produced track, this might be something you're competing with. (?)
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Old 08-07-2019, 05:44 PM   #13
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OP here ... just to give answers to some of the questions.

I guess you could call the type of ambient music I make "old school" ... just sounds, textures, drones, weird noises ... no melodies, no drums or bass. I like my ambient to be slow, deep, foreboding, sad etc. I also like the lower registers so I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to boominess.

I pretty much use studio monitors exclusively ... Mackie MR5mk2. But ... listening through head phones is an idea I didn't think of ... might help determine if the room is the source of the boominess.

The room is small and untreated ... it's also my cluttered home office. I'm sure it could use some sound treatment. I record and listen in the same room.

I'll try a reference track. My hunch is there won't be much boominess if any.

At the moment I'm having much better success by using a strong high pass filter centered around 200 - 300 Hz. Haven't needed to boost anything. No compression.

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Old 08-07-2019, 09:53 PM   #14
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Answering the op.

The ordering of plugins are likely irrelevant. This sounds like a monitoring issue more than anything. Start referencing other (commercial) tracks while mixing, in the same genre. Do this religiously, before, during and after working on your music. Make sure you reference AT THE SAME APPARENT LEVEL as your own music(!). You will probably find that the commercial tracks sound somewhat thin, not boomy enough, to your ears, especially after working long hours. This is ok. The reference is your new benchmark. Get your music sounding as close as possible to the general balance of the reference.

Also. Consider your monitoring situation. Is there something you can do to get your space in a better shape for working with music? Can you use headphones? Are there other places you can listen to your music AND YOUR REFERENCES? A car? A hifi-playback system in another room? A portable bluetooth system or something?

Compare, compare, compare. The more you listen to your reference tracks, in different environments and playback systems, the clearer it will be to you what is lacking in your own tracks, and in your main monitoring setup. Adjust accordingly.
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Old 08-08-2019, 02:17 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KenB View Post
OP here ... just to give answers to some of the questions.

I guess you could call the type of ambient music I make "old school" ... just sounds, textures, drones, weird noises ... no melodies, no drums or bass. I like my ambient to be slow, deep, foreboding, sad etc. I also like the lower registers so I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to boominess.

I pretty much use studio monitors exclusively ... Mackie MR5mk2. But ... listening through head phones is an idea I didn't think of ... might help determine if the room is the source of the boominess.

The room is small and untreated ... it's also my cluttered home office. I'm sure it could use some sound treatment. I record and listen in the same room.

I'll try a reference track. My hunch is there won't be much boominess if any.

At the moment I'm having much better success by using a strong high pass filter centered around 200 - 300 Hz. Haven't needed to boost anything. No compression.

KenB
How does it sound when you play it somewhere else, In the car, through cell phone into headphones, at a friends house through his system ?
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Old 08-08-2019, 12:13 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KenB View Post

At the moment I'm having much better success by using a strong high pass filter centered around 200 - 300 Hz. Haven't needed to boost anything. No compression.
Well, if THAT didn’t take out the boominess I’d completely be at a loss for words

It certainly gets right to the point : ) Whatever works!
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