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The anatomy of a score mix #5

Today it’s all about reverbs. In some ways it’s interesting how much and how different reverbs are being used in a score mix, on the other hand sometimes it’s quite the opposite, reverbs used very sparingly.

Obviously this heavily depends on the score and the concept. But many times especially on symphonic material reverbs are only used to enhance things a bit, to reinforce acoustics and not for really hear the effect itself. This is because mainly when it comes to a symphonic orchestra, we strive to maintain the real coherent balance, only elevating the whole picture without ruining the delicate bond that makes a real orchestra inimitable.

In a hybrid score that comprise electronic and acoustic material we might use more or even less depending on how we can massage together the two vastly different worlds. Although I’m always surprised how well these two completely different types can live together in perfect harmony sonically if you find the right balance.

This is a hybrid score with lots of electronic stuff in there so let’s see what I’ve used to create space, to enhance acoustics and to create distinct effects.

Altiverb XL

I think this would’ve been everyones’s first guess. Altiverb in my opinion is the very best convolution reverb. High quality impulses and the guys really work hard to grow the already huge library of impulses. Although I’m known to be mostly in love with algorithmic reverbs, if I need anything impulse based, I reach for Altiverb. I have my own favourite halls and rooms I always start out with and then tweak them if needed. The XL version is the complete surround iteration of the plugin which is not cheap, but definitely worth the price.

Exponential Audio R2 surround

This was my very first purchase when I discovered the brand. Absolutely blown away from it I clearly remember that I played with this for days. I liked it so much that I failed to create a favourite preset list as I loved so many presets. Since then I own many of Michael’s plugins and for a good reason. They are superb! The amazing thing is it can be subtle small room of a huge arena, the R2 can recreate it with vibe and feel. The implementation is just perfect. If you want to keep it simple, just call up a preset and probably you’re ready to mix. But if you need more control over the surround field, it’s right in there only a mouse click away. Very well thought out interface that helps you find everything in seconds. Still my first choice for scoring.

Exponential Audio Phoenix surround

The brother of R2 I guess. If you need real spaces, look no further. It’s amazingly clean, many times I like it more than almost any convolution on the planet. I’m not an expert in algorithms so I won’t be able to tell you why this plugin can create more realistic feel than most impulse based one, but it’s true. You should try it. The other nice thing is the Exponential interfaces follow the same basic principle so once you know one, you know all of them. No need to search for things, it’s all very logically placed so during mixing it’s easy if you would like to change any parameter. All of Michael’s plugins are extremely reliable when it comes to automation and they are zipper free so even if you glide from one set of parameters to something completely different, they won’t create that nasty zipper noise many other plugins produce.

Avid Revibe

The old and trusty one. Well, not so old as they updated it to AAX DSP. One thing everyone should know is that Revibe is always running in surround mode, meaning it’s eating the same DSP or CPU power even if it’s only a mono or stereo instance. Otherwise it’s still very popular even in post production circles. It’s a great reverb. For music I have my favourite presets in it, and tweak those a bit to fit my needs. Still, Revibe always find its place in my score mixes. In the last one or two years I tend to use it less and less, but there are certain things that it does perfectly. It’s a huge plus in my book that it is AAX DSP. Sadly very few reverbs supported on this platform.

Waves Abbey Road Plates

The digital recreation of the old and very, very famous Abbey Road plate reverbs. You can check the history and background of these gorgeous plates, how they worked closely with Abbey Road to catch the tiniest details of the original boxes. I can’t compare them to the originals, but this plate is just magic. Every time I use it it makes me smile. Somehow it almost always blends perfectly well with the material. My only negative comment would be that it eats unbelievably huge CPU power. Really, it’s that big of a CPU hog. Not to mention the fact that it is surely loosely optimised as it uses the CPU cores extremely unevenly. Once I had a conversation with Waves’ customer support and they seem to think that it’s fine this way. But hopefully their engineer don’t think the same. At least I’ve never seen any plugin properly coded and optimised using only one core at its extreme while ignoring that there’s another 11 cores would be available.

PSP 2445

It’s the newcomer, at least here. PSP made this based on the EMT 244 & 245 reverberator and all I can say is they did a pretty amazing job. This is also a plate you just insert on an aux, send some signal into it and it’s already sounding gorgeous. Additionally you can switch it to be solely the 244 model or the 245 or the combination of both. Not too much parameter to tweak but it has some under the hood goodies if you open the little box at the bottom of the plugin. While I really appreciate when companies make authentic emulations, the trend that they make it more clever with additional features that had never been available in the original is a great decision.

Eventide 2016 Room

It is an old-new love for me. The first moment I had the chance to try the original hardware I knew we would be great friends. And our friendship is stronger than ever. It is a perfect room if you want walls around any source or even if you’d wish to have bigger rooms for horns and percussion. The amazing thing is that it also works on strings. Honestly I know it’s not a plugin with a zillion parameter to adjust, but it really works. Works on any instrument in any genre. And it is really light on CPU which is a great thing when you’re mixing a huge score.

I don’t know the proper background but the thing is, these old reverbs, or the emulations of them many times seems to sit better in the mix. Reverb plugins became unbelievably great in the last few years, yet I often reach back to an emulation that is based on some old hardware. Maybe it’s because back then they’ve spent more time to develop one algorithm instead of rushing to release something, maybe it’s just my taste but for me one of the serious points in using or not using a reverb plugin lies in its ability to blend in the mix without tweaking it for 30 minutes. As you can see I’m in love with a few very new ones but also don’t want to uninstall the oldies as they really not only get the job done, but do it beautifully.

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New old friend

Only had a few deep breaths at the start of the new year I took a little time to test some new plugins, revisit some old ones testing against the newcomers. Since virtually every company offering at least 14 days demos anyone can really try if the plugin is up to the hype around it or not.

Proven methods

Of course the testing process goes as usual, going through many genres of music, loading up sessions from small to big, from jazz through pop to film scores. I don’t really like one-trick ponies. I like plugins and hardware that can be used in a variety of ways and able to perform in more than one demanding situation.

The other things is, in this regard I’m quite stubborn. I don’t care about user or even very famous user reviews, blogs or forums, I have to try and it must work for me before I purchase. I recommend the same to everyone. Don’t take anyone word for it, because it might work for one and not the other. Forums and blogs and reviews are good for a compass, but never ever trust them for the final decision.

For the first few days I tested dynamic processors, bus compressors. First I read some blogs and forums to sort get an updated picture of the latest and greatest, then decided myself what to try. Downloaded a few demos from Plugin Alliance, Fabfilter and Waves and started with a moderate session to hear which ones I like in the first round.

Using different genres really helps to eliminate the ones you could only use for one purpose. It is really amazing how easy to reveal any shortcomings with this method.

The new old friend

Fortunately I had the chance to use the original hardware, the API 2500 compressor. When we first met, it was an instant match. I’m sure every engineer has these eureka moments, when you instantly feel like if that piece of gear or software was made for you. This compressor is surely for me. Without any prior experience with it I found many good settings, within seconds I could use it for many things.

api2500 meter

This sparked the idea to try it plugin format. I won’t go into any debate whether it’s a dead on emulation or not, the fact is, it is damn close which is enough in my opinion. I think it’s so good that if you can’t get the sound from the plugin, you won’t have the sound with the hardware either.

What is exceptional in my opinion is that it’s not only good for dynamic material, but equally nice on more mellow things, even on symphonic material with the right settings. Can be coloured but also able to subtly massaging the master bus. The famous thrust switches and the option to use it as old (f.back) or new (f.forw) type compressor also adds another dimension to it. The link section even further make this beast useful. Not only the shape, but the L/R link option can be fun to play with and believe me when you hit the right amount, it can be pure sonic magic. Although it only has 3 options when it comes to knee settings, but during usage you can find just the perfect option in seconds.

thrust api

In hardware format it is still a pricey piece, but I think in plugin format it is not that unreachable thing today. At least I fall in love with it, again, but now in the digital domain.

api2500 full

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Templates and presets

First a confession. I’m a maniac, I have zillions of templates and presets, literally for every possible scenario. And if it was not enough I always revisit old things to re-check, develop and make brand new ones. On the other hand this whole template and preset addiction can kill creativity if not used wisely.

Industrial tempo

I use this term when I have more thing to record or mix than what would be manageable or healthy. Of course it doesn’t really matter what I think about it because the job has to be done. This is the point when I start to heavily rely on my collection. But there’s definitely more to this than simple laziness. Actually it’s absolutely not about any kind of work shyness. It’s about these benefits:

  • get the job done in time
  • get the job done without errors
  • properly manage your time
  • spend your time on the important things
  • achieve stellar sonics rapidly

I guess some of my points may raise some eyebrows so here’s the explanation. The first is obvious. The second point become obvious when you need more coffee than water. Show up in the studio sleep deprived, your brain is still in bed and you start to appreciate that everything snaps into place, the routing, the plugins, the effects, etc.

template

The third is also important both when you’re tired and if you have no ample time for set up and check things through. A great template and some presets can save you tons of time making your otherwise impossible schedule turn into a manageable one.

The fourth. If you save time as you rely on your previously created and tested templates, you have more time to fiddle with the really important things, sonics. It’s really that easy.

preset

The last one. Sound engineers tend to be very detail oriented persons which is great but polished sound requires time. Presets alone won’t make a record sound like a finished mix but certainly can help you achieve stellar sonics much more rapidly. Probably this is why I always strive to refine my presets. This way they can really help me when I need them.

With all that said, I still encourage everyone to sometimes loose all the safety net and be brave, experiment, invent new methods and workflows. The real great discoveries comes when you don’t heavily rely on tried and true methods. However, if you don’t have time, it’s good to know we have the trusty templates and presets to help us out.

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Softube and Gobbler

I read it on forums that Softube has recently changed the way users can access their products. First I haven’t payed attention, but after a few days it was suspicious that many seemed to thought that it’s a bad move.

Today I checked if I need to update some plugins, and realised the Softube ones need update.

Meet their new system

There’s no way to access your downloads if you don’t have a Gobbler account. Period. I for one really don’t like this as I had terrible experiences with Gobbler before. So take into account that I’m biased. But anyway, generally I don’t think it’s a good thing to force us into something like this.

Once you have your Gobbler account, and that is linked to your iLok account, you have access to your Softube plugins. The app scan your plugins and tell you if you need to update your plugins, or even if you have something that is not on your machine yet.

softubegobbler

On my laptop I have 4 Softube plugins. When I tried to update them from a broadband connection it was painfully slow, but at the end it was successful.

It’s absolutely not obvious though that you still have access to your offline installers. But the one caveat is that you still need the Gobbler account. To access your installers, go to Softube’s website and log into your account. Scroll down to the bottom of the page where you can find the link to “My downloads”. And voila, it’s all there.

The year of new models

Now it’s obvious that most companies want to offer subscription based services. This is good or bad depending on your own point of view. I can see the benefits of subscriptions, yet I’m still not convinced that this is the best way to do it. One thing for sure I hate when I’m being forced into something. I sadly tweeted yesterday that I think it’s a bad decision, obviously Softube’s answer is: “Gobbler is much easier than the old system…” Well, I don’t think that registering with a third party, then downloading and using an additional third party software is easier. My main problem with this is we already use a plethora of little add-on apps from cloud services to backup apps, you name it. I’m not convinced we need more.

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Gala for the Olympics

Today we have a big gala, which is a live broadcast event for us. As we’re getting closer to the Rio Olympic Games, these big events start to pop up everywhere. This one is going to be the official oath taking ceremony.

The show

The easiest and most obvious thing is that we’re going to have two speakers on stage whose job is to announce the ceremony, ask the celebrities to come to stage to speak, and announce the band who will perform a few songs. From this perspective it seems quite simple.

We’re going to have 5 band during the show with different needs.

Probably the flow will be something like this:

  • speeches
  • first band
  • introduction of the celebrities
  • second band
  • speeches
  • third band
  • politicians speeches
  • fourth band
  • short film about the upcoming olympics
  • fifth band
  • end

Let’s see this whole thing from a technical perspective. The live sound part of the show is given, I won’t go into detail with that. For us, the interesting thing is the broadcast part.

Technical background

The whole show will be mixed in Pro Tools HDX2 live with an S6. The basic template comprise of 128 inputs, all mixed down to final stereo which must be compliant to EBU R128 loudness standard. The OB truck receives our stereo mix and sync it with picture.

Sounds simple enough. I’ve got a well worked out template, so in reality it won’t be so complicated. Every band will have its own audio group and VCA master. So I have the ability to process them differently through their own audio group, but at the end I can easily have control over them the VCA masters. This is important because with this method I only have 8-10 faders at the end, which is much more easy to operate than to have 24 or more different types.

So my final MasterMix Layout looks like this:

  • Band 1
  • Band 2
  • Band 3
  • Band 4
  • Band 5
  • Speeches
  • Atmo
  • FX
  • Sum
  • Master

The combination of VCA spill and Layouts will give me the flexibility to reach anything in a second if I need to. For safety I have one Layout for each band, one for the Atmospheres and speeches and one MasterMix which shows me all the VCAs and other necessary groups and the individual mics for the announcers. The Sum group is there for various reasons. One is being a great place for overall level adjustment, the second is to have an easy control point during the live broadcast. Because all the band groups will go through the Sum, but none of the audience mics or announce mics. With this, I can easily level or remove all the performers from the broadcast while still have the announcers and the audience.

Of course, under the hood there’s many more things going on, but here’s a very simplified pic of the routing:

Signal flow

How it all goes

We have one full day for doing all the technical preparations, soundchecks and at the end of the day we have a full rehearsal. The next morning we have a short rehearsal, a final check and then we go live with the show.

While I record everything into Pro Tools, along with the audio the automation will be recorded too, so after the show I’ll have a complete mix with all my moves in the session. So if I need to correct something, it only takes a few seconds to make some adjustment. While our rigs are very stable, we still use multiple backups. One full backup is a Nuendo 5, the other is JoeCo Madi recorder. All running parallel to Pro Tools.

S6 during the rehearsal

Plugins used in the session:

  • Avid HEAT
  • Brainworx BX console
  • McDSP AE400
  • Maag EQ4
  • Softube TLA 100A
  • Brainworx Millenia TCL-2
  • Brainworx bx digital V3
  • Avid ProLimiter
  • Exponential Audio Phoenixverb
  • Exponential Audio R2

At the end of the first day, I can tell you that all the rehearsals went fine, I’ve got everything as it should be. Double-checked all my routings to make sure I won’t fall into my own trap. The fun starts tomorrow.

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