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VSTs at different levels out of the box

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Hi all,

I wanted to ask a question about mixing VST levels within the one project.

Some of my VSTs are at very different volume levels ‘out of the box’, (e.g. Mojo Horns, Session Horns, Broadway Lites all seem to be quite soft compared to some others), meaning I have to raise their volume to match other VSTs in the mix. I obviously want to avoid audio clipping but it’s sometimes hard to know what the end result is going to be like throughout the mixing process.

Does you have any advice/tutorials for mixing/balancing out a range of different VSTs? I hope this makes sense!

Thanks :)

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As long as the levels in your VST instrument's internal meters and in the associated audio track's output meters are not clipping then you should be fine if you don't care to go into a discussion about intersample peaking. If you're not clipping at the audio output track (and anywhere down the chain from there) then you're fine. It's no different than just balancing levels with normal audio files. If they're not already clipped, you just manage the gain along the chain.

If you mix your VST instruments so they sound right then all you need to do is make sure their output levels aren't clipping anywhere just like anything else. That's just you mixing.

The VST caveat regarding gain-staging is more for effects which take an audio input. Different VST effects behave differently and many digital effects can sound bad if you overload their input going in (or cumulatively through a series), but I'm not sure that's related to your question.

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i'd be lowering the louder VSTs, rather than increasing the quieter ones, fwiw

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Its all about gain staging.

What you want is each individual signal path to be respectfully within its range (db wise). This means following/analyzing/adjusting  the path from input to output. When your at this point in the mixing stage don't worry too much about cohesiveness (one track being louder than the other). Be more concerned with gain staging. Don't red line any of your track levels. I've had projects with 30+tracks that require some tracks to be set at -24db to avoid blowing up my master bus.

Once proper gain staging is accomplished, then you can move on to adjusting track faders by both using visual inspection and more importantly...Ear inspection. Some tracks may read 0db and another -10 db and sound the same room level. This is where EQ and a good ear will help.

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24 minutes ago, pwalpwal said:

this seems more like "just mixing" :D

Yep I know.. haha :)

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Thanks for your replies.

A general question... I usually do my mixing all in the MIDI stage/initial project stage; however should I be bouncing all my tracks to audio then mixing/mastering them in a separate project? I can never seem to get my tracks sounding as punchy as commercial tracks do and I wonder if it's because I'm staying in MIDI the whole way.

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I think you should be mixing the audio out of your midi tracks, so don't mix the levels via the midi track volume setting but rather via the audio output from those instruments

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2 minutes ago, pwalpwal said:

I think you should be mixing the audio out of your midi tracks, so don't mix the levels via the midi track volume setting but rather via the audio output from those instruments

And if I'm using a multi-timbral instrument like Kontakt?

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1 minute ago, CDK said:

And if I'm using a multi-timbral instrument like Kontakt?

Each multi has its own audio output? Otherwise you're mixing that inside kontakt, but same, mix the audio rather than the midi

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If a VST's default output level is consistently lower or higher than you want with audio Gain and Volume controls at 0dB, start by adjusting the MIDI Volume fader. This controls the synth's Master Volume with CC7 (or channel volume of a multitimbral synth if the track has an output CHannel assigned).

By default, the MIDI Volume fader is disabled as indicated by parentheses around the default level of 101 (see the MIDI tab at the bottom of the Track Inspector in the case of a  Simple Instrument track).  When you move it, it automatically becomes enabled, and that value will be sent to the synth to initialize its output level every time you start playback. This is especially important with hardware synths that may have their volumes left at some other level by a previous project or alteration from the front panel. Softsynth states are stored in the project so that won't happen, but it's still good practice to set that initial volume to have a reliable starting point. Conversely, if a MIDI volume control was inadvertently enabled at some point, you can double-click it to reset the value to 101, and then right click and choose 'Disable Control'. Then you can control the synth's volume from its GUI. 

Also, be aware that if two or more tracks point at the same synth/channel, and both have their MIDI Volume faders enabled, the highest numbered track will have the final say in what that level is, as Cakewalk process the track volume messages (and other MIDI controller messages like Pan) from top to bottom.

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yes, so there are three volume stages here? midi volume level, then the one generated  internally by the vst based on the midi volume, and then the audio output of that/track - midi --> vst --> track?

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Some VST instruments really peg their preset volumes way louder than they should be - there is no standard, so from one instrument to the next initial plugin instrument volume can be all over the place.  Lots of plugin authors like their presets to sound 'punchy/loud' and they are set to initial values that are way too loud.

Whenever I load a plugin instrument or live instrument/mic, I always set the combo of the plugin output volume and the assigned/associated audio track(s) gain setting to a peak of around -18, so that I have lots of room to work with.  

Bob Bone

 

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7 minutes ago, Robert Bone said:

Some VST instruments really peg their preset volumes way louder than they should be - there is no standard, so from one instrument to the next initial plugin instrument volume can be all over the place.  Lots of plugin authors like their presets to sound 'punchy/loud' and they are set to initial values that are way too loud.

Whenever I load a plugin instrument or live instrument/mic, I always set the combo of the plugin output volume and the assigned/associated audio track(s) gain setting to a peak of around -18, so that I have lots of room to work with.  

Bob Bone

 

So how would I set the plugin instrument's associated audio track/s gain setting to a peak of around -18? Is there an actual setting? Or would you just adjust the gain knob?

 

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10 hours ago, pwalpwal said:

Each multi has its own audio output? Otherwise you're mixing that inside kontakt, but same, mix the audio rather than the midi

Do you mean each multi has its own audio output for each MIDI channel/instrument?

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6 hours ago, CDK said:

Do you mean each multi has its own audio output for each MIDI channel/instrument?

yes, if that's how you're using kontakt (stereo-out versus multi-out)

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Instead to speculating about every single VST gain, it would be much better in your mixing to use your ear and your creativity and you'll be fine.

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20 hours ago, lapasoa said:

Instead to speculating about every single VST gain, it would be much better in your mixing to use your ear and your creativity and you'll be fine.

I do agree that using one's ears is a critical part of the whole music production, from start to finish, however I have seen many sources give -18 dBFS as a good target peak for digital audio recording.

From a Sound On Sound article on Gain Staging: "If you take the sound with the highest peak levels and set it so that it peaks at between -12 and -18 dBFS, you shouldn't run into problems with plug-ins or summing on the mix bus".

In any case, I initially set instrument volume and gain to a target of around -18 dBFS for my digital audio recording projects, without involving faders at that point.  (Avoid using faders for initial gain staging, because they affect signal after the plugins, and by adjusting instrument volume and gain, you are setting appropriate levels for sending signal to the plugins).

Bob Bone

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On 10/5/2019 at 8:55 PM, CDK said:

Do you mean each multi has its own audio output for each MIDI channel/instrument?

In Kontakt, you can route output of each loaded instrument too its own stereo output channel.  What I do, once I have loaded up to 4-5 instruments in a single instance of Kontakt, is to run one of the batch functions (available via drop-down menu in the Output Section), which is a function to clear out whatever is in the Output Section, and then it creates a separate stereo output channel for each loaded instrument - and properly assigns them in the same order as the instruments were loaded. 

Please note that when it does that, it mashes each instrument name into its associated stereo output channel name, so after running that batch function, I then double-click on each output channel in the output section, giving each a cleaner looking name, like Piano, Bass, Organ, Rhodes, etc., instead of the mashed up names it gives them. It just takes a minute to rename the resulting output channels, and is easier on the eyes, to see reasonable names at a quick glance. :)

Bob Bone

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