Jump to content
Michael Martinez

Help suggest improvements to the mix on this song

Recommended Posts

Posted (edited)

Hi, I put together this song on my laptop using Cakewalk, soft synth instruments, and free VST plugins (and a vocalist I found online). I'd like to improve the mix as it sounds lifeless and dull:

https://soundcloud.com/mwtzzz/the-forever-lament

To me the vocals sound dead, as do many of the other instrument tracks. I'd like suggestions on what steps can be taken to improve this. I feel that the stereo field and the sense of depth needs to be opened up, but I don't know how to achieve this. I'm totally new to mixing stuff in a DAW.

By way of reference, please listen to the following song which is by the 80s synth group B-Movie:

https://youtu.be/pMz6oSd0FdM

In the above song, the vocals are lot more alive (not so dead sounding as in my track), and there is more stereo and depth perception in a lot of the tracks.

Is it a matter of adding more reverb to the vocals? Is it a matter of using a vst plugin that will apply Chorus to give depth perception? Is it a matter of panning different vocal tracks? These are the types of questions that I think are the right kinds of questions to ask, but I have zero experience with this, so I'm not sure. Finally, is it possible, using Cakewalk plus free VST plugins to achieve a mix similar to the B-movie song, or am I better off paying a professional mix engineer?

Or, is there someone here who'd like to take a crack at mixing the song? I'd be willing to buy you a case of craft beer or something in return.

Edited by Michael Martinez

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Michael, you might consider posting your question in the songs forum. I got a lot of great mix-related feedback on my projects there.

Edited by Kevin Walsh

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Actually,  the mix itself  is pretty good .  Everything is clearly heard and nothing clashes or gets obscured.  Mostly it is a matter of performance and arrangement. 

 

The song doesn't really go anywhere.  Despite the interesting little ear candy bits, it sort of just sits there.  Static. 

 

The reason the vocals sound dead and lifeless is because,  well, they're dead and lifeless.  The whole performance seems kinda phoned in. Her pitch timing and diction are right on, but she just ain't convincing me. No passion.  She is good, but needs some coaching to bring out a PERFORMANCE. It sounds like it was recorded in a very dead space. That's not bad,  it is often a technical necessity.  I Have to do the same thing. So do many others.  It sure beats having all those nasty flutter echoes and comb filtering flying around,  but yeah, you have to add the room in later during the mixing stage. 

 

Also, all the instruments sound like they were step sequenced or quantized rigidly to the grid.   Totally lacks human feel and that is the number one thing making the song sound lifeless.  See, in the '80s - when your reference song was done - everything was recorded onto 2" tape being played in real time by humans. That's the key difference,  not the right  VSTs. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

Bryon,

Good overall critique. I would like hear what you have to say about the other songs when I post them.

Agreed 100% on the vocal performance. Not much passion there, but we get what we can get. And in her case, I think it's the result of two things: 1) I don't know whether she's real "passionate" overall; 2) the mood of the music and the lyrics are pretty ethereal to begin with.

The other thing is, it's difficult to find people to bring life to your art the way you envision it. If I were to get 5 different singers to do the song (which I probably can't), likely none of them would  have the right kind of thing going on.

The other thing that's a bit monotonous in the song is the vocal melody. That's how I wrote it as I myself was singing it/composing it. It's kinda monotonous, but the monotony also kinda expresses the sentiment, so I'm rather okay with it overall.

Yep, I'm not a real big fan of quantizing. But it's necessary when I'm doing everything myself.

The rest of the song is pretty spot on with what I'd like, given the constraints I am working in, that is that I'm doing everything myself. I would like to record this music with real musicians - that was the initial idea - but I don't have any, haven't been able to find any, and so what I've done is to create everything myself as a vehicle to:

- express the lyrics I want to express

- express the mood I want

- have a "demo" recording which I could later use to hopefully entice fellow musicians to form a band.

I would much rather have real musicians playing this, including myself on keyboards, in a live environment. i mean, I know that as much as you. Any musician knows that. But that's just not possible at the moment. So I have to settle for next best thing.

Given the above constraints, I'm satisfied with how it came out. It does what I want. The lyrics and the ideas can be heard, and the general mood is felt the way I want it felt. In my mind, this recording is the "first stage" - a demo that stands on its own if it needs to, and hopefully can be re-recorded with real instruments later.

Regarding the mix, seems like adding room to the vocals and then mastering it would be the main things remaining to do.

Edited by Michael Martinez

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I should note, when I say "demo" I don't mean any sense of sending it to try to get it played on the radio, or whatever people usually think about when they say "demo." I don't have any interest in promoting my music or any interest in selling it. My purpose is just personal artistic expression, so my goal is to have recordings that are decent enough for that purpose.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 3/18/2019 at 8:44 AM, Michael Martinez said:

The other thing is, it's difficult to find people to bring life to your art the way you envision it. If I were to get 5 different singers to do the song (which I probably can't), likely none of them would  have the right kind of thing going on.

The other thing that's a bit monotonous in the song is the vocal melody. That's how I wrote it as I myself was singing it/composing it. It's kinda monotonous, but the monotony also kinda expresses the sentiment, so I'm rather okay with it overall.

 

I thought it was just too long, the intro and the changes, the vocal melody is also clashing with the change in the bass in the second sentence of the verse, it's pushing the vocal away. It's like you have created a backing track and then forced a singer to sing over it, whether it fits or not. The reverb on her voice isn't ideal, too much and cheap wet sounding, I couldn't focus on the lyrics.

You need to be a singer yourself and to sing in full voice when you are creating the melody, then any odd bits will stick out, using instruments to play the melody and thinking it will convert to a human voice doesn't work well and using half voice or the voice you hear in your head while composing also is not ideal, unless you are a very experienced song writer. Perhaps get the singer in sooner in the composition phase? and involve her in the composing part.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

There's not a whole lot of movement in this vocal melody:

 

But when you hear Rob singing

There I was completely wasting, out of work and down
All inside it's so frustrating as I drift from town to town
Feel as though nobody cares if I live or die
So I might as well begin to put some action in my life
Breaking the law, breaking the law....

 

He's got you absolutely convinced. You can feel the frustration.  

The lyrics 

"...We fly through this godless endeavor
We try to explain the black forever

I feel helpless and alone, trapped on the third stone

I feel permanently stoned, this godless endeavor the only cage I've known

Our organic equation has shown it's flaw
Can we agree to disagree on the concept of god?
As I lifted up my brother he said to me
"Abandon naive realism, surrender thought in cold precision"

I feel empty and deranged, denied one last epiphany and ushered from the stage..."

sound pretty ethereal to me

But the delivery is full of existential angst. 

 

Yeah,  I  know it is a totally different style & genre, but my examples demonstrate  a lack of movement in the melody or deeply  introspective, existential lyrics are no excuse for a  dead and lifeless vocal.

 

Nor is playing all (or most) of the instruments yourself any excuse for a lack of  soul:

 

Edited by Byron Dickens

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

yeah man, real instruments. no way to compare it, real instruments played live breathe life into a song.... So you're hinting you'd like to contribute vocals/instruments on my song?

regarding previous comment on vocal melody, I'm fine with the melody, it's how I intended it. I'm fine with the cheapness of the reverb, I'm just using free vst plugins, after all.

Edited by Michael Martinez

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

FWIW, I think the vocal in this song is okay.

It's Never late... Different singer, different style, but, again, okay.

I'm not expert... Couldn't write a "song" to save my life but from what I have heard so far you just need to work on arrangement, possibly. Like I said, I have no idea what I'm talking about and just wanted to say, vocals okay.

Trickster has just started, while I am typing and thinking what to say. A bit quiet this one, compared to the other two. So you perhaps need to work on final mix and master and work towards a typical loudness level for your tunage.

I would recommend having a look this, if you are not up to speed with loudness and stuff yet:-

https://www.sweetwater.com/insync/what-is-lufs-and-why-should-i-care/

Or do a search on LUFS (Loudness Units Full Scale)

23 minutes ago, Michael Martinez said:

I'm just using free vst plugins

That shouldn't mean much... Lots of great and professional free VST instruments and effects out there...

 

cheers

andy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Andy, actually the only two songs on soundcloud that are "ready" (have been mixed and mastered) are Forever Lament and It's Never Late. For mastering, I'm probably not going to bother doing it myself (yet another thing I would have to learn).  For those two songs, I ended up just using an automated cheap online service called cloudbounce. I might look for another service.

So, for The Forever Lament, apart from replacing the singer and replacing everything with real instruments, the things that can be done to improve the mix are:

  • use a better quality reverb on the vocals

That's what I understand so far.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
40 minutes ago, Michael Martinez said:

yeah man, real instruments. no way to compare it, real instruments played live breathe life into a song.... So you're hinting you'd like to contribute vocals/instruments on my song?

regarding previous comment on vocal melody, I'm fine with the melody, it's how I intended it. I'm fine with the cheapness of the reverb, I'm just using free vst plugins, after all.

I'm not trying to start a fight or anything. 

You asked  how to breathe life into a dull and lifeless mix.  The only way to do that is to -  well, to breathe some life into it.  There ain't a VST  in the world - free or paid - that will do that. No one makes a "soul" plugin. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Byron Dickens said:

I'm not trying to start a fight or anything. 

You asked  how to breathe life into a dull and lifeless mix.  The only way to do that is to -  well, to breathe some life into it.  There ain't a VST  in the world - free or paid - that will do that. No one makes a "soul" plugin. 

Agreed. Unfortunately not within the scope of what I'm able to do at the moment. Given this constraint, anything you can think of that would improve the current mix?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here:

 

Not a single  "real" instrument.  Nor a single real performance.   Whatever you might think of the piece,  I don't think the words "sterile" or "lifeless" apply.  Like it or hate it, it breathes and moves.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

That "rescue at sea" link you posted, the guy used Miroslav Philharmonik 2 ($300), IK Multimedia's Fairchild ($50), and Mixbus ($80) plus SONAR to produce that sound. Obviously there's a big difference in quality and realism of samples/instruments between paid versus free stuff. Something that sounds more realistic will obviously have more life.

Edited by Michael Martinez

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Byron: Would you like to contribute $430 to me so I can buy Philmarmonik 2, Fairchild, and Mixbus and run my Midi files through them? I'll bet you're gonna say "that won't help", but I'm betting it would.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Anyway, let's stop beating a dead horse. Ok, it's dead, lifeless music. Fine.

Now back to the reason I opened this thread. I'd like specific technical suggestions on the mixing/mastering of the song as it currently exists. In other words, if you were a mixing engineer and you were handed this song and your job is to mix it in a style similar to an 80s new wave style, what would you do? What type of effects/reverb/etc would you apply and on which instruments would you put them? I'm asking because I don't have any experience mixing or mastering audio.

So far we have one suggestion to improve the quality of the reverb on the vocals. This is a practical suggestion that I can work with. Any others?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Michael Martinez said:

Byron: Would you like to contribute $430 to me so I can buy Philmarmonik 2, Fairchild, and Mixbus and run my Midi files through them? I'll bet you're gonna say "that won't help", but I'm betting it would.

Send me your MIDI file.  I'll prove to you that it ain't the guitar,  it's the guitarist. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
7 minutes ago, Byron Dickens said:

Send me your MIDI file.  I'll prove to you that it ain't the guitar,  it's the guitarist. 

Exactly. As I already said: real instruments, or realistic-sounding software instruments versus cheap-sounding software instruments. Of course it makes a big difference. 

You're going round and round here.

By the way, there's no guitar on this song. It's all vst synths.

Do you want to be a contributing musician to be included on the mastered version of the song that will get posted online?

Edited by Michael Martinez

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

continuing on, for the rest of you: are the vocals clearly heard on the recording? It's important to me for the vocals to be clearly heard and understood. Someone else mentione that the cheap reverb vst on the vocals was distracting. Is there some recommendation for another reverb or something that can be done to bring more focus on the vocals and make them more clearly heard?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
18 hours ago, Tezza said:

The reverb on her voice isn't ideal, too much and cheap wet sounding, I couldn't focus on the lyrics.

 

I re-listened to it, and yeah, you're right, the reverb is distracting. How to fix this? Is there a different type of reverb I can try, or maybe just less of this one?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×