When recording synths...

Discussions on sound production outside the synthesizer such as mixing, processing, recording, editing and mastering.
gcoudert
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When recording synths...

Post by gcoudert » Tue Dec 16, 2014 7:09 pm

... do you put anything between the synth and the mixer? Preamp? Compressor? Anything else? What do you use to make your recordings 'warmer' or to colour their sound? Where in the recording chain / process do you use them? What are your typical settings? Just wondering. I find my recordings sound dull despite the signals being quite 'hot'.
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Re: When recording synths...

Post by tomorrowstops » Tue Dec 16, 2014 8:01 pm

I usually record all mine direct into the preamps of whatever interface I'm using. Sometimes through my Space Echo if the part calls for it. I've never used a compressor or eq for tracking, just during the mix. I suppose I just spend a lot of time dialing in sounds to taste?

What synths are you specifically recording?

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Re: When recording synths...

Post by dustinh » Wed Dec 17, 2014 5:00 am

I use camel crusher vst on just about all my synth parts as a sort of tube preamp simulator. It sounds great and it's free. I use it just enough to add a bit of harmonics. Sounds good for overdriving synths as well.

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Re: When recording synths...

Post by gcoudert » Wed Dec 17, 2014 9:07 am

tomorrowstops wrote:What synths are you specifically recording?
Nothing fancy. Just sampler and rompler stuff (Fantom X8, JV-1080 and S5000) plus guitars.
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Re: When recording synths...

Post by tomorrowstops » Wed Dec 17, 2014 8:19 pm

Hmm. Maybe we need a more detailed description of what 'dull' is to you? Typically when I see people asking for 'warmth' and 'color' they're really after different sound sources altogether. I mean sure, you can mess around with preamps, EQ's and compressors but at the end of the day, the character of your core source is the problem. For instance, I personally don't hear the X8 and JV-1080 producing 'warmth' and 'color' to begin with.

Then of course we could be talking about 'dull' being related to your overall perception of the mix. Ways to overcome that would be altering arrangement, messing around more with automation, etc.

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Re: When recording synths...

Post by gcoudert » Wed Dec 17, 2014 9:31 pm

it's hard to put it into words but I feel my overall mixes lack that almost-in-your-face quality and depth that modern recordings have, and I don'tbjust mean commercial releases. It's a bit like the difference between 90s CDs and their remastered equivalents, if you like. This comparison has actually made me wonder if it's my mastering technique that's at fault after all? I often use a four-band compressor/limiter on my mixes to even out what I perceive to be the four main frequency bands in the mix and add some punch but it doesn't seem enough somehow.
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Re: When recording synths...

Post by madtheory » Wed Dec 17, 2014 9:41 pm

Sounds like a mixing and monitoring, and possibly arranging/ programming problem. Post some mixes, much better than trying to use words.

I just record line in, but haven't used the JV-1080 in a looooong time. On the list to mess around with over Christmas. Regularly record the Novation K Station, that thing rarely needs any processing. Very good to dial in the sound you want. SPD-11 is the same, quite a big sound from that. Dunno how they did it, it's 16 bit.

If you're needing to use a four band comp all the time, then something's wrong I think. I never use them and my mixes sound fine in broadcast (check em on Bandcamp if you like).

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Re: When recording synths...

Post by Stab Frenzy » Thu Dec 18, 2014 6:34 am

gcoudert wrote:... do you put anything between the synth and the mixer? Preamp? Compressor? Anything else? What do you use to make your recordings 'warmer' or to colour their sound? Where in the recording chain / process do you use them? What are your typical settings? Just wondering. I find my recordings sound dull despite the signals being quite 'hot'.
You realise that one man's 'warm' is another man's 'dull'?

Regardless, putting something in your signal path is only gonna get you the final 5% of the way there, you need to have a good sound first before you try to polish it.

Sounds to me that you just need practice getting good sounds and mixing them, don't worry about anything else until you can get your stuff sounding great with the built in EQs and comps in your DAW. :thumbleft:

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Re: When recording synths...

Post by calaverasgrande » Sun Dec 21, 2014 5:46 pm

When recording pretty much all of my synths and drum machines traverse a tube preamp or a transformer based solid state preamp. Id much rather get a slightly too wooly sound and have to rescue it by carving out the low mids, than have the reverse situation. A thin wheezy track that has no character.
For the most part the tube and transformer based preamps simply add a slight harmonic richness. They also have the benefit of not cooperating with any superfast transients that eat up my headroom. So a signal that is coming off my tube pre at -12 dbfs has greater apparent loudness than that same signal if it fed directly into my interface.

Currently the amount of synths and drum machine outputs I have far outstrips my DAW inputs and my preamps.
I'm thinking of getting another 828MKII (they are cheap on C-list) and having it modified by Black Lion Audio. Then doing a hack job on a Yamaha PM170. They are a 6 channel line mixer from the 80's with an idiosyncratic sound i like. They only have 2 outputs, but it is not hard to interrupt the stereo buss and create individual outs which feed line level via matching transformers. Then I get 80's Yamaha op amps feeding some galvanic goodness.

One other point which is often swept under the carpet.
Make sure you record with plenty of headroom. You do not want your individual tracks popping above -12dbfs or so. Depending on the material I may shoot for an average of -14dbfs or lower. The reason for this is that as you add tracks together the mix buss will creep up in volume. After you add enough tracks, maybe a dozen or so, you will be clipping the mix buss. It is best to start out at a lower level and just turn up the monitors. This also helps preserve transient detail. Not as desirable in synths, but when you record acoustic instruments or voice, it is very crucial.
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Re: When recording synths...

Post by dustinh » Sun Dec 21, 2014 7:57 pm

If it sounds dull, try cutting out frequencies that don't need to be there, turn up the high end a touch, and really play around with stereo placement. One of the easiest ways to create depth and separation of tracks is to pan. Not half a*s panning in the 2 o'clock position, don't be afraid to hard pan stuff left and right. Sometimes I'll double a melody and have it played by two different sounds and pan each one on opposite sides of each other. Other times, I'll use a stereo eq and eq the left and right sides differently on certain instruments. As far as eqing goes, I usually cut out everything below 120 hz on everything except the kick and bass. Also, there tends to be a lot of frequency buildup around 1-2 khz, so shaving a couple dB off these frequencies can sometimes bring out more clarity.

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Re: When recording synths...

Post by gcoudert » Sun Dec 21, 2014 8:49 pm

dustinh wrote:If it sounds dull, try cutting out frequencies that don't need to be there, turn up the high end a touch, and really play around with stereo placement. One of the easiest ways to create depth and separation of tracks is to pan. Not half a*s panning in the 2 o'clock position, don't be afraid to hard pan stuff left and right. Sometimes I'll double a melody and have it played by two different sounds and pan each one on opposite sides of each other. Other times, I'll use a stereo eq and eq the left and right sides differently on certain instruments. As far as eqing goes, I usually cut out everything below 120 hz on everything except the kick and bass. Also, there tends to be a lot of frequency buildup around 1-2 khz, so shaving a couple dB off these frequencies can sometimes bring out more clarity.
Thanks for the EQ advice. I do a lot of panning and doubling already with different sounds (e.g. rhythm guitar with different chord inversions. I also cut low frequencies below around 120Hz but I will look into this low frequency build-up. Would you also recommend not using reverb on low frequency sounds and rolling off the low freqs on the reverb?
GC

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Re: When recording synths...

Post by calaverasgrande » Sun Dec 21, 2014 9:00 pm

sometimes what you think is low freq build up is really low mid in the 200-400hz range. This can sound normal on solo instruments but cumulatively those muddy low mids build up and add that 'crappy demo' sound.
It is a common trick to cut all the lows on everything but the kick and bass. This really does work. However don't be afraid to cut the lows on bass (especially bass guitar).
I tend to avoid using the treble knob like the plague. Nothing is worse than a harsh spitty track.
If it's not shiny enough I do the opposite. Crank a mid eq up by 6db, and sweep it back and forth until I find the most annoying freq it can be at. Then cut that freq. Often I find that after I cut out some mud like this I can boost tracks up a bit in level, and the shiny sparkle is there.
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Re: When recording synths...

Post by dustinh » Sun Dec 21, 2014 10:08 pm

Yeah, it is very easy to over do turning up the highs. I only do it to one or two instruments in a mix usually, but going over board is one of the most common eq mistakes.

The two problem areas in frequency buildup is the high mids (1-2 khz) and low mids as was just mentioned, about 200-600 khz, and the low mids are usually the most problematic because most instruments have fundamental frequencies in that range, often resulting in a muddy buildup there.

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Re: When recording synths...

Post by madtheory » Mon Dec 22, 2014 12:34 pm

I would be very wary of generic eq advice, especially around using HPF, when we haven't heard your work. It all depends entirely on the arrangement and the feel you're after. For example there's really nothing wrong with putting reverb on bass. Sometimes it's exactly what's required! Although it is true that typically (i.e. not always, but often) it creates "mush", just like it does in real life acoustics.

Again, it would be a lot more effective if you posted examples of these problematic mixes. And again, the number one cause of the problems you describe is the monitoring (i.e. room and speakers).

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Re: When recording synths...

Post by nvbrkr » Tue Dec 30, 2014 11:50 am

calaverasgrande wrote: It is a common trick to cut all the lows on everything but the kick and bass. This really does work.
Yep.

Try it. It won't necessarily provide you with the best-sounding mixes, but it should give you a better idea of how to make your mixes actually work. Compare the results to some classic records from the 1970s, 80s and the 90s and see if it gets you closer to what you hear on those records. I realize you might want to go for a more modern sound, but that demands a whole lot more tinkering.

There should be a sentiment of space in your recordings and the most important elements in your mixes should come off as being well-articulated. If you're going to fill it all up by doubling things and adding layers upon layers it's not going to be so easy to achieve those two aspects. For "full mixes" that sound dull I'd recommend trying the "cut lows on all instruments except on the kick" trick as the first measure and then work from there.

Multitracking rhythm guitars is basically the gateway to mixing h**l. Try to cut down on that habit for a few productions and see if you like the end results better. The problem is that multitracked guitars might have a more satisfying quality to them during the tracking phase when you're working on the composition and all options are still open, but when it's time to pull it all together you'll often find that less is more.

You don't have to care about the preamps so much if you just mix things wisely. If something sounds good to you it should be emphasized in the mix and the elements that don't sound as good to you pulled down. Things tend to sound "livelier" if you just create some room around them.

Rolling off the bass from the reverb tail is generally a good idea.

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