How do you balance your instrument levels?

I find it very frustrating when all various orchestral sample libraries have so wide range of output levels on the same dynamic level. I mean, a flute playing FFF should not be anywhere near as loud as a trombone section at full blast.

I have thought about doing a template where I somehow get a good orchestral balance for each and every instrument, so that the entire range from ppp to fff reflects how loud it would be in relation to each other instrument. But I have no idea how to go about this massive task. :stuck_out_tongue:

How are you guys doing this? :slight_smile:

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For me who is new to this midi composing this is a problem. At first I really didn’t know if I were doing something wrong or missed something regarding the levels especially since I use both Kontakt and play engine. Now I just try to listen to each instance of the level if it is right. Especially in brass libraries where the sound goes from smooth to brassy. A template seems like one good way to solve it.

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…unless it’s piccolo. Piccolo is louder than everything, no matter what. :wink:

Seriously though; yep, it’s annoying that there seems to be no standard for the levels, and in some cases, it’s not even consistent within a library.

I don’t really have any other suggestion than adjusting the levels until it sounds right. (And pan, mic levels, reverb etc, if using unrelated libraries that don’t match out of the box.)

The safest bet is probably to play the respective instruments at the dynamics levels you intend to actually use. I wouldn’t bet on them being completely linear in the processing and scripting either, especially not at ppp and fff, so you might get weird results if you match everything at maximum velocity/dynamics, and then play mostly around p.

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This particular issue was the one and only reason I was tempted to get BBCO. I did not get it in the end due to many other issues I heard from users of BBCO though.

But the perfect balanced orchestra is something I would like to have in DAW form

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As your mix and level will change per track you do id say the idea of a template primarily for that wouldn’t work.

Interesting take of volume (db) though, comparing flute to trombone. I would add that when we are mixing we are actually relying on perceived volume. As technically a flute can be much louder than a trombone because of simple science. Bass frequencies take much more energy, so in the instance of a trombone and a flute, less air is needed to create high Db of sound pressure for a flute, this is to do with how close the natural waveforms are (closer together for a flute).

Having said that, we feel bass frequencies much more than high because they have a tendency to accumulate, which is where perceived volume takes its stand.

I often refer to attending a concert in a stadium to describe this. When you first enter a concert all you hear is treble, you feel the bass but you’re ears havent climatized to the environment yet (they are in a state of compression). Then eventually we start to hear the low end and the spectrum fills out. It’s the same with mixing. It doesn’t matter much about volume because we feel music too.

This should effect how we mix too. When this is applied to mixing we then understand why frequencies mask others, which then helps us combat it with strategic EQ.

I’ve been lucky enough to see breakdowns of Orchestral mixes that have been mastered by pro engineers and they take this concept to the max, especially in heavy hitting trailer pieces. When I first seen these breakdowns I learnt that everything was a whole lot thinner on its own, especially the strings (my mind was blown). No matter what library we get, we still should be mixing it with EQ at the very least… even with a library such as BBCO which claims to blend well with each other. The issue with full libraries such as this is that yes the samples sound great together because they were recorded at the same time in the same space, but they weren’t strategically carved to sit perfectly with each other.

(back to the mastering thing) Ironically though, it didn’t sound thin at all, and it helped a lot with stereo placement and perceived loudness… yes a flute can be as loud or louder than trombone but this isn’t the point. The point is fitting the instrument into the space effectively, so it slots in and doesn’t mask anything, or get masked itself. Tricky stuff that I for one don’t get right as often as I’d like :sweat_smile:

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But this can also be a blessing can’t it? In real life if playing live acoustic one louder instrument can “drown” a more silent one if the players don’t adjust the playing(one example is when a nylon guitar is fingerplayed beside the accordeon). But in the mix you can level up the nylon guitar to the same level even if playing very smooth.

I think the best goal in a piece Is to be able to hear everything without instruments competing for space. So I’d probably say that it’s of no benefit. We should be striving for a balanced mix where nothing masks anything.

There’s a great plugin called sound theory gullfos. It analyses your mix of in real time and shifts the frequencies to create a clearer more coherent mix. It’s worth looking into, saves so much time on certain mixes… but we should also be carving space alongside this aswell.