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  • [REQ] Loudness Masterclass (incl. settings)


    I am feeling like a bloody novice but I figure it’s better to admit it and man up to acknowledge the fact instead of keep on trying on my own.

    I am looking for loudness. I know it’s not for everybody but I am OK with giving up some dynamics and what not to achieve it. So far, I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s a matter of finding the right levels between all the settings where volume is a factor. In summary this is all the places where I can affect the dB meter on my VSL mix:

    • Vienna Instrument Volume
    • Expression (I count this but not velocity X-Fade)
    • Vienna Ensemble Mixer Instrument Track Volume
    • Vienna Ensemble Mixer Inserts (separate instrument compressor and limiter)
    • Vienna MIR, insert and configuration (mic position, wet and dry signal)
    • Vienna MIRacle (as a bus and pre-fader send)
    • Vienna Ensemble Mixer Master Volume
    • DAW Master (compressor and limiter)

    This is 10 places in total where I can meter volume, either for a separate track – or the entire mix. So far, I’ve been able to achieve a great sounding mix, all the instruments volume is in a good place in relation to each other. What I am looking for is a way to up the level on the entire mix without pushing the master limiter too much.

    Please note that I am realistic. I am using software equipment for some 1000 dollars so I know I can't make it sound like it was prepared at Abbey Road Studios. But if what I am getting is the maximum I could possibly achieve with this setup please let me know if there is anything I should consider investing in, either a hardware compressor, limiter or otherwise (or just tell me to attend some mixing and mastering classes since I have no clue what I am doing ).

    This is my settings for the main string section (Violins 1&2, Violas, Cellos and Double Bass respectively):

    •     Vienna Instrument Volume (128/128/128/128)
    •     Expression (I count this but not velocity X-Fade) (all the instrument sections is about 30-40 in diminuendo and 90-110 in crescendo, X-Fade is everything from 30-120, but for the sake of argument; 60/60/70/60)
    •     Vienna Ensemble Mixer Instrument Track Volume (-5dB/-5dB/0dB/-6dB/-11dB)
    •     Vienna Ensemble Mixer Inserts (separate instrument compressor and limiter)
    •        Compressor (Preset for orchestral strings on all instruments)
    •        Limiter (overload protection only on Double Bass)
    •        And… I also use dedicated EQs on each instrument but that’s only for coloring the sound
    •     Vienna MIR, insert and configuration (mic position, wet and dry signal)
    •        Mic position
    •           Violin 1 (-2,5X/1Y)
    •           Violin 2 (-5X/2Y)
    •           Viola (0X/2Y)
    •           Double Bass (2,5X/2Y)
    •        Wet/Dry
    •           All strings (0,3)
    •     Vienna MIRacle (as a bus and pre-fader send)
    •        All strings (-9dB Pre Fader/Preset for Teldex Length Enhance)
    •     Vienna Ensemble Mixer Master Volume (0dB)
    •     DAW Master (compressor and limiter)
    •        Meter (0dB)
    •        Multiband Compressor (Preset: Loudness)
    •        Limiter (Threshold -12dB/Release 100.00/Ceiling -0,5dB)

    OBS! I use Synchron Stage A (wide) with this setup; only main mic (standard position), max reverb-time (1,8) and 0/0 dry/wet.

    Sorry for referencing to the presets that I use but hopefully that’s easier than transcribing every single setting. In my ensemble I also use Dimension Strings, Keys (Imperial, Organ, Cembalo, and Harp) Brass-, Percussion- and Voice-sections. So, there is plenty more added into a mix but I am guessing that the process of achieving loudness is more or less equal or possibly a matter of maybe re-arranging a few sections.

    All in all, I’ve measured that I am about 6dB away from a Hollywood score with this setup. Is that normal? Browsing through the demos you all post I feel that there is a great few of you who measure higher levels than I do. What is your secret?


    Best Regards

  • Hi Jhonny,

    thanks for a very interesting and detailed question. 

    I'm sure that other forum members will chime in soon, so let me just give you some quick guidelines which could help you achieving seemingly LOUD mixes:

    - Get rid of unnecessary energy in all tracks (mostly low-frequency components that don't add to the actual signal) before any other dynamic processing.

    - Use several compression stages instead of just one to tame complex dynamics. This is true for individual tracks as well as complete mixes. 

    - Use multi-band compression for difficult sources instead of just full-range dynamics.

    - Distortion is your friend. :-) Tape-saturation and the like will make a signal to appear louder than before by adding "interesting" harmonics which cut through a mix more easily.

    ... and most importantly:

    - Automation (even down to the level of individual notes or syllables) is the actual secret of any well-balanced, seemingly loud mix. :-) 

    BUT! All of this will help in case of good arrangements only. Most of the time, a loud (read: efficient) mix is also a result of  great arrangement and programming/performance.


    /Dietz - Vienna Symphonic Library
  • One specific thing I have worked on is making sure that there are not transients which are louder than necessary and keeping the general level down. This can happen especially if the dynamic range of an instrument is not correctly handled, and one has a single instrument sforzando dominating the entire orchestra.   So I guess that is a musical side of the question but very easy to mess up when using samples. 

    Also I have been trying to keep in mind the effective loudness that individual instruments or ensembles have relative to the entire orchestra.  This involves extremely careful setting of overall levels of each instrument relative to the other but also performance aspects.  When you listen to a  concert of a live group you notice how greatly the amplitude or sound energy varies between instruments.  Many of them simply disappear in a loud tutti, totally obliterated by percussion and brass. But with samples one often hears a tiny woodwind section going up in volume right along with the massive brass section  and completely artificial sounding.  I also notice this a lot with violins.  They simply are not heard as loudly as more powerful instruments in live performance once the dynamic goes up, but with samples they are often being heard screeching above everything else because the performer/composer wants his violin melody heard no matter what.    

  • Thanks for the reply!
    Very interesting points. I'll test adding several layers of compression right away and really try to automate around the markers between soft and hard articulations. I am keeping my staging-project pretty basic to find a baseline mix which I can incorporate into my larger projects. So I've effectively disabled everything except the main string section. That way I can avoid evil frequencies, that might otherwise make me miss the marker in an complex mix.

    EDIT! Adding the 2nd compressor (preset Pre-MS Limiter) I bumped my output +3dB. Getting closer :)

    @Dietz Do you have any tips on creating distortion? Any specific plugins or method of using the basic suite plugins?

    @William Finding the correct levels between instruments and articulations is really difficult I feel. Do you have any tips on workflow? As I detailed in the OP there are so many places to effectively adjust volume for single instruments that I sometimes loose the overall view of each track. I usually try to do the following:

    1. Define the ceiling - I max the velocity at the Piano and strings as a baseline and then try to find the settings were the limiter put in some work but not to the point where it's affecting the overall sound. For this I usually max Expression level 110 and 128 Velocity-XF on all strings.

    2. Define the floor - I then try to find a minimum volume in relation to each instrument. These values usually differ; i.e. it might be Expression level 30 on a violin section and 20 on the viola.

    3. Build the dynamics for each section of the composition -  I set a baseline Expression and then move Velocity-XF up and down across the timeline so that each instrument play with the correct velocity (intensity) that the composition requires. I then use Expression to find the correct volume in relation between all instruments.

    4. Make the performance - in this step I detail the velocity-XF and perhaps even switching up the articulations a little bit more. I also add slot XF to control the vibrato. I use the modulation wheel on my keyboard to record the XF and vibrato. Sometimes I lower the BPM on the project to get a range of velocity into each violin stroke, even the staccatos. For staccato specifically I measure between a interval of approx. 10-15 in a busy section.

    This work OK but I find that I sometimes need to reset an entire section based on the final result.
    Anyone else want to share their settings? :)