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Topic: Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

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  1. #1

    Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

    Hi,

    I've delayed the mixing of my bands album for far too long now. We recorded it july-aug this summer. The music is pretty (understatement) big-sounding. Lots of (sampled)orchestra, drums, high-pitched vocals, guitars, and we are planning a live-choir as soon as I get a litte clearity in the overall sound... Since there is a lot of orchestra, and the singer is singing higher than most girls and loud as hell there's no need to say that a lot of frequences are competing for the same freq-range...

    Anyone with experiance in mixing this type or similar music?

    BTW, I'm using EWQLSO Gold....

    Cheers..

  2. #2

    Re: Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

    Finally there is a question I can answer here (as opposed to lurking daily).

    What you're asking is right up my alley. The band I play for (Jag Panzer) uses much choir, real string players and sampled orchestra in a metal setting.

    The key to mixing metal like this is to avoid the temptation to carve out the guitars to get a better orchestral sound. Mix the guitars like they're in a basic guitar/bass/drum song. The upper registers of the orchestra should occupy the same space that vocals typically do in a metal song, albeit with less volume. For the orchestral parts that occupy the same space as guitar/bass it's all a matter of the playing being different enough. If an electric guitar and orchestra are playing the same parts you'll need to give priority to the electric guitar.

    For reference give a listen to 'Gettysburg' from Iced Earth. It's a 30 minute metal epic with a real orchestra. The producer (Jim Morris) is the same one I've worked with on my past 5 albums. Jim is highly skilled at mixing metal with orchestral parts.

  3. #3

    Re: Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

    Hi,

    Thanks for the tip...

    I'll check out the song you mentioned there too...

    cheers

  4. #4

    Re: Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

    Excellent topic.

    First of all here's an example of everything I'm going to explain.

    It's a demo with two individual clips without anything final. A real drummer will play the drums, there will be a real electric bass, vocals and the guitars are now recorded with Pod and will be re-recorded with tube amps. Which of course means that the mix isn't final.

    As Briody said, the key thing is to get the metal band rock. After that you just have to get all necessary orchestral instruments audible without overbearing the mix with the orchestra. Remember that not every instrument is the lead. Just like in a classical piece you have to make a balance between soloistic instruments and those which you'll notice only if you press track mute in the mixing console. Those instruments make the grandeur sound, not the leads.

    One of the hardest things to do when mixing a rock/metal band with orchestra is the bass end of the frequency spectrum. The orchestra has to be thinner with than without the rock group, the rock group has to kick butt and when it does there is no room for full-power orchestral bass. There are several ways to accomplish this.

    One is the use of a dedicated orchestra mixing group with which you use an eq. This way you can use automation to give space for the rock bass drum, guitars and electric bass. If there is a passage without the rock band you can take the eq off to give the orchestra it's real authority back.

    Another way is to do the eq automation one track at a time. Most of the time even the cellos will blend nicely with the rock group without thinning them that much. Double basses are the main instrument of concern. You should orchestrate using the basses even if they play the same thing as the cellos but an octave lower. Use a shelving eq to get the rumble out of the double basses and fit the upper harmonics to the mix. An orchestra won't sound like an orchestra without the basses.

    Another key thing is the use of reverb and the positioning of instruments in the virtual space. First of all you'll need a reverb with which the orchestra shines. After it does you can again use an eq to cut down those low frequencies from the reverb return that would interfere with the low end of the rock group. Usually the orchestra should be a huge and wide thing in the background while the rock group is in your face. Of course you can play with the positioning and bring the orchestra to the front when needed, but usually it's not a good thing to try to get everything up front.

    Also remember that you can't fix bad orchestration in the mix.

  5. #5

    Re: Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

    Thank you janila for sharing your tip! Some of what you wrote here, I had acctually thought about myself, but in fear of doing a mixing-mistake (yes I'm a coward) I chose to ask this particular question before starting to mix... Don't like to do things over again if I don't have to...

    Cool demo too btw.. Our(my) bands music is a litte more like Rhapsody meets Kamelot... Sometimes the orchestra is the core of the sound whereas the guitars are only there to actually make it sound "metal"... Sometimes it is the other way around, and the guitars are what is holding the song together... I guess what you said about mixing the orchestra may apply to both situations. Sounds like a good place to start, so it is worth a try nevertheless...

    Cheers...

  6. #6
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    Re: Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

    Quote Originally Posted by Briody
    What you're asking is right up my alley. The band I play for (Jag Panzer) .....
    Dude - I am a fan - I own some of your albums. Harry still with you guys? What a voice! Cheers.

  7. #7

    Re: Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

    I notice that nobody has metioned compression.

    A distorted guitar is usually totally compressed, while an orchestra has a huge dynamic range. It seems to me that the writing is key - use the orchestra as a pad or fill when the guitars are chugging, and write more melodically when the rock band backs off. Stir and mix appropriately.

    Anybody else have solutions for dealing with the different levels of compression between the rock band and the orchestra - and the need to make a CD as loud as possible these days.

    I think the worst experience I've had with compression vs. high dynamics was when I brought my electric guitar to jam with friends who sing 60s folk songs. (I normally bring the keyboard to jam with them, but it was in the shop.) To get an electric lead sound meant that I was drowned when they got loud, and on the quiet parts I stomped the mix with my distorted frequencies splattering everybody in the room. When going with a clean sound, I was just another twang in a sea of acoustic guitars.

    So maybe it just takes appropriate writing and a good moment by moment mix, but it seems that you'd want to compress the orchestra a bit, and mix the metal band with more dynamics than you would if it were alone.

  8. #8

    Re: Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

    Quote Originally Posted by RiffWraith
    Dude - I am a fan - I own some of your albums. Harry still with you guys? What a voice! Cheers.
    He is!

    We did 2 albums without him (one in '87 and the other in '93) but the past 5 albums all feature Harry. I agree, he has a fantastic voice. He's a nice guy too, no ego whatsoever.

  9. #9

    Re: Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

    Quote Originally Posted by JonFairhurst
    I notice that nobody has metioned compression.

    A distorted guitar is usually totally compressed, while an orchestra has a huge dynamic range. It seems to me that the writing is key - use the orchestra as a pad or fill when the guitars are chugging, and write more melodically when the rock band backs off. Stir and mix appropriately.
    Wise words indeed... This is what I often do, if I've written a big orchestral part that I happen to be quite satisfied with, it usually ends up quite loud in the mix, and the chugg-chugg-guitars falls behind too... I'm pretty new to mixing but I've come to understand that keeping an even volume on the guitars (in this kind of music) is not the way to go...

    cheers..

  10. #10

    Re: Tips on mixing an "orchestra" with metal-band?

    When using a sampled orchestra the dynamic range is already narrow which means that there isn't much need for compression. I usually don't use a compressor in the orchestra group but mix the orchestra with the rock band using automation and then use compressors and such when mastering the whole mix. Of course a sampled orchestra can have a wide dynamic range but that requires extra work. Usually a somewhat flat sounding orchestral mix will suit the purpose just fine. Distorted guitars also have a nice habit of masking some faults of the samples. Also using real players in the rock part will make the sampled orchestra sound more real than it does by itself.

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