EZ Drummer levels

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BillW
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EZ Drummer levels

Post by BillW » Wed Jan 08, 2020 12:58 pm

While I realize that hard and fast rules, or even rules of thumb, are not to be taken too seriously, I've had good results with one that I've used - I guess part of gain staging. I used to put a Blue Cat gain plugin on most of my tracks, but it's even easier with the pre-effects gaon knob on the mixer.

So what I've done based on a suggestion is trying to keep all the tracks around -16dB (again, I realize there is no magic to any suggestion - but this has always set things up well.) The other is keeping the master track around -10dB. Of course there are spikes (be pretty boring otherwise) but the idea I think is make sure those spikes don't go in the red.

Then I add the effects and again try to keep the levels all fairly consistent in the suggested range.

OK - this all makes sense and has worked great EXCEPT for EZ Drummer. I don't know why, but if I keep the level at that -16 or so, I really can't hear it very well. I adjust the gain for each microphone in the EZ Mixer as it plays in Mixcraft, but in order for them not to get lost, the drums need to be up quite a bit. Primarily the kick it seems.

What this does is the overall drum track (not the individuals) push up well higher than -10db, and then master track gets there as well.

OK - this is the part where I hear the voice in my head with yet another tip - "mix with your ears, not your eyes".

So maybe I should just carry on and not look. And it seems to all work out fine in the end, especially after I use a matersing plugin like Ozone.

But I still have to wonder why the drums get lost if I try to keep it at -16, when every other instrument comes out clear and distinct.
Mixcraft 8 Pro (32bit) runs fine on a Toshiba Satellite C55-B laptop with a wimpy Celeron N2830 (dual core). Now using 64bit on a "less wimpy" Dell 660S/Dual Core Pentium/8GB RAM.

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Drdish007
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by Drdish007 » Wed Jan 08, 2020 10:46 pm

Hi,
Drums have a quick attack and a short decay of sound. Even with a high peak level there is not as much power to the sound compared with instruments that have a longer decay, like a piano or guitar. Look at the wave form.
To get the sound louder, while keeping the peak level lower, try using a compressor plug-in. This will keep the lower while boosting the short decay of the sound. Use your ears, then check your level meters.

Someone else may have a different suggestion that I may not know of. My suggestion is based on recording an actual drum kit. I use the compressor to help bring the levels up and keep the peaks in check.

- Myran
Mixcraft9RS(460)64Bit, Win. 10 64Bit, Intel i5 @ 3.20GHz, ssd 250GB(os),1TB hdd(library audio),1TB hdd (recorded audio),Nvidia GeForce1050i video,16GB RAM,Focusrite 18I20 2nd gen usb,Motu 5 ch.midi interface, D5,U220,Keystation88,B4000+,Leslie,Rhodes73mk1

Anorax
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by Anorax » Thu Jan 09, 2020 1:17 am

BillW wrote:
Wed Jan 08, 2020 12:58 pm
So what I've done based on a suggestion is trying to keep all the tracks around -16dB (again, I realize there is no magic to any suggestion - but this has always set things up well.)
yes, good
The other is keeping the master track around -10dB.
yes, good
Of course there are spikes (be pretty boring otherwise) but the idea I think is make sure those spikes don't go in the red.

Then I add the effects and again try to keep the levels all fairly consistent in the suggested range.

OK - this all makes sense and has worked great EXCEPT for EZ Drummer. I don't know why, but if I keep the level at that -16 or so, I really can't hear it very well. I adjust the gain for each microphone in the EZ Mixer as it plays in Mixcraft, but in order for them not to get lost, the drums need to be up quite a bit. Primarily the kick it seems.
Compressors are your friend for drums. Use them, not abuse them.

What this does is the overall drum track (not the individuals) push up well higher than -10db, and then master track gets there as well.
There's a reason for this and I'll get to it in a bit.

OK - this is the part where I hear the voice in my head with yet another tip - "mix with your ears, not your eyes".
bingo. (But also compressors are your friend.)
So maybe I should just carry on and not look. And it seems to all work out fine in the end, especially after I use a matersing plugin like Ozone.

But I still have to wonder why the drums get lost if I try to keep it at -16, when every other instrument comes out clear and distinct.
I mean honestly, Myran pretty much covered everything here. Drums are short, sweet, and to the point, and I believe that the meters in Mixcraft show the peak volume, not an average. So when you're turning down the drums to where they peak at -16dB, your perceived loudness might be as low as -35dB or less. Definitely wouldn't hurt to add a compressor to control your peaks but also raise the average volume.

- - - -

If you're curious, you can throw a metering tool like dpmeter 4 into the FX list on one of your drum tracks and see how the peak compares to the RMS level (RMS - short for Root-Mean-Square - is a method of getting an "average" reading of the volume or strength of a signal as opposed to just looking at the peaks - you can sort of think of it as perceived loudness, but this isn't the best description). For example, here's a screenshot of dpmeter 4 on one of the snare tracks in the Mixcraft 9 Pro Studio demo project:
2020-01-09.png
2020-01-09.png (58.17 KiB) Viewed 776 times
(Grabbing this was tricky, as I only had a short window of time before RMS Momentary went back down to -inf)

What you're seeing here is that the Snare 2 track in the Icarus project has a snare clip that peaks at -18dB, but has a momentary RMS value of -39dB. By comparison, I added dpmeter to a synth bass track in that project and it had a peak of -7dB but a momentary RMS of -14dB. The synth bass RMS is much closer to its peak level than the snare is (and, when soloed, the bass sounded louder than the snare), so if you wanted to have the snare and bass have the same perceived loudness, you would want to look at something other than the peak levels. Keep in mind, this isn't exact, and I'm sure if you were to crank the snare in this example up to the RMS hitting -18dB, you'd probably have the peaks hitting several dB over -0dB, and that's never good. So, like you said, mix with your ears, not your eyes, but sometimes it's fun to use tools to see why different instruments do different things when mixing.

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BillW
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by BillW » Thu Jan 09, 2020 6:51 am

Wow - GREAT information. Thank you both!

Compression is still a mystery to me and I've concluded it's some sort of mental block with me. Which bothers me because I normally understand complex things (I'm a statistician / data analyst by education and profession).

So I read things like "use compression" and I think "OK, but how? And why does it work? For that matter, what is it doing?"

So bear with me as I try to understand by thinking out loud -

Compression makes sure the volumes don't get past a certain level. It can be set as an absolute ceiling - so that it absolutely can't go above that limit - but more commonly it's set less abruptly - so it gradually "softens" it. That's the whole attack, limit, and release parameter settings.

Assuming I have that right, I can put compression on the drums so I can raise the overall volume of it (using the gain knob I assume) without the peaks getting into the red (or much past -16 or -10 for that matter). So the only thing I'm "compressing" is the most extreme part of the drum hit but not the overall sound.

Am I close?

That being the case, I wonder if EZ Drummer has a compression setting built in (I'm not at my home computer now); but Mixcraft's plug in of course is fine.
Mixcraft 8 Pro (32bit) runs fine on a Toshiba Satellite C55-B laptop with a wimpy Celeron N2830 (dual core). Now using 64bit on a "less wimpy" Dell 660S/Dual Core Pentium/8GB RAM.

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Drdish007
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by Drdish007 » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:17 am

Hi,
I just used the new compressor that came with Mixcraft9 on my drum submix. I used it to control peaks of the attack of the sound.

I used a ratio from 3:1 to 4:1. I adjusted the ATTACK to catch some of the drum sound's attack. I left the RELEASE set to AUTO. While listening, adjust the THRESHOLD to set the amount of compression that gives you what want. What I did was set up my drum sound on my drum submix track to what sounded good, then played all instruments and mixed in the drums in. I adjusted the instrument levels and drum level so I had a good mix that had peaks around -6dbfs.

You can also read articles on using compressors. That is how I learned, plus experimenting with settings and listening to how the sound changed. I also have hardware compressors that I use. Lookup some manuals on hardware compressors. They have information on how to use compression, not just how to use their product.

Hope this helps.

- Myran
Mixcraft9RS(460)64Bit, Win. 10 64Bit, Intel i5 @ 3.20GHz, ssd 250GB(os),1TB hdd(library audio),1TB hdd (recorded audio),Nvidia GeForce1050i video,16GB RAM,Focusrite 18I20 2nd gen usb,Motu 5 ch.midi interface, D5,U220,Keystation88,B4000+,Leslie,Rhodes73mk1

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jlouvar
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by jlouvar » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:38 am

I mix with my eyes closed... When it sounds good, it is good.
Note: Be careful with processing, expressly compression... It can add but also suck the magic out of sound too.
- Joe -
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Acoustica Greg
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by Acoustica Greg » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:41 am

Hi,

The other thing would be EQ: are there frequencies in other elements of the mix that are muddying up the drums? You could reduce low frequencies on tracks that don't need low frequencies, and high frequencies on tracks that don't need high frequencies.

Greg
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jlouvar
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by jlouvar » Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:51 am

Yep, EQ is the most useful/powerful tool available... Period.
- Joe -
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BillW
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by BillW » Thu Jan 09, 2020 12:37 pm

All great suggestions.

Understand that the overall sound is OK (to me at least) and my question was a bit more academic than a real request for help.

Again, it passes the "ears" test but the meters on the drums being higher than my rule of thumb makes it fail the "eye" test.

That said, I do suspect I can make it subtly better with compression and EQ (and it may well be I'm losing the kick because it's conflicting with the bass - so EQ to the "rescue".)

Again, thanks much everyone!
Mixcraft 8 Pro (32bit) runs fine on a Toshiba Satellite C55-B laptop with a wimpy Celeron N2830 (dual core). Now using 64bit on a "less wimpy" Dell 660S/Dual Core Pentium/8GB RAM.

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Anorax
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by Anorax » Thu Jan 09, 2020 7:00 pm

If you're not ready for a nice, dense, technical read, move on :wink:
BillW wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 6:51 am
Wow - GREAT information. Thank you both!

Compression is still a mystery to me and I've concluded it's some sort of mental block with me. Which bothers me because I normally understand complex things (I'm a statistician / data analyst by education and profession).

So I read things like "use compression" and I think "OK, but how? And why does it work? For that matter, what is it doing?"

So bear with me as I try to understand by thinking out loud -

Compression makes sure the volumes don't get past a certain level. It can be set as an absolute ceiling - so that it absolutely can't go above that limit - but more commonly it's set less abruptly - so it gradually "softens" it. That's the whole attack, limit, and release parameter settings.
Ehhhh. Kind of. Sort of.

When it comes to processing audio, you'll have two types of effects: dynamics-based effects, and time-based effects. Panning, Gain, EQ, and Compression are dynamics-based; reverbs, delays, and effects like chorus and phasers are time-based effects.

So what a compressor does is it listens to an incoming signal, and detects if the signal rises above the threshold that you specify with the threshold knob. When the signal does, the compressor turns on and begins to compress your signal. How much compression happens is determined by the ratio of the compressor. The ratio, which depending on the compressor typically ranges from 2:1 to 10:1 but sometimes can go higher (a limiter is a type of compressor with a really high ratio - anywhere from 30:1 up to ∞:1!), is an in-to-out comparison. For the ratio n:1, every n decibels over the threshold your input signal gives you an output signal that is 1 decibel over the threshold. So if you had a constant white noise that is at -5dB going into a compressor with a threshold of -10dB and a ratio of 2:1, your output signal will be at -7.5dB. If your ratio was 5:1, then the output would be at -9dB.

Attack and release are the on/off times of the compressor - how long it takes for the compressor to engage when your input signal crosses the threshold, and how long it takes for the compressor to "relax" when the input signal falls below the threshold.

When we think that a compressor makes things louder, what we're really noticing is the makeup gain - because a compressor, well, compresses downwards, you want to apply gain afterwards to bring the volume back up.

So, going back to this:
Assuming I have that right, I can put compression on the drums so I can raise the overall volume of it (using the gain knob I assume) without the peaks getting into the red (or much past -16 or -10 for that matter). So the only thing I'm "compressing" is the most extreme part of the drum hit but not the overall sound.
...yyyyes. The compressor will compress the most extreme part of the drum hit (depending on your threshold, and after the initial attack time for the compressor to engage), so you can then safely turn up the drums a bit with the gain knob. Because compressors still take some time to actually turn on (10ms at the least in most cases), the very front of the drum will still get through though, so keep that in mind. There are some workarounds to this, but that's getting super technical and can introduce delay to your signal if you aren't careful.
jlouvar wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 11:38 am
Note: Be careful with processing, expressly compression... It can add but also suck the magic out of sound too.
That's what parallel compression is for. :wink:
BillW wrote:
Thu Jan 09, 2020 12:37 pm
All great suggestions.

Understand that the overall sound is OK (to me at least) and my question was a bit more academic than a real request for help.
Glad I could give an overly academic response! :lol:

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BillW
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by BillW » Fri Jan 10, 2020 11:25 am

Oh sure - just when I pretty much understood this (enough to make sense in my mind) you throw "parallel compression" at me! :)

We'll save that for another day.

I put compression on the drums using the Acoustica plugin; then tried again with the classic one. Both times I used the "drums" preset for each and it was much improved as far as the visual - meters where I think they should be - but not as much to the ears (didn't sound any different w/o compression and the meter higher). But headroom matters, or might, so it makes sense

(Let's not get into a discussion on presets - I know many people say not to use them and I 100% completely understand why. But cut me a break - I'm lucky to get 4-5 hours a week at this which is only a hobby. In fact it's been nearly a year since I got back into it. Presets save me the time of fiddling around with settings - though I acknowledge that's the best way to learn. Still, there's a balance between making music and learning technical details and since I don't have time for both, I'd rather make music.)

Again, and as always, thanks to the great folks on this forum. You are all the best advertising Mixcraft can get!
Mixcraft 8 Pro (32bit) runs fine on a Toshiba Satellite C55-B laptop with a wimpy Celeron N2830 (dual core). Now using 64bit on a "less wimpy" Dell 660S/Dual Core Pentium/8GB RAM.

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Anorax
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by Anorax » Fri Jan 10, 2020 2:24 pm

BillW wrote:
Fri Jan 10, 2020 11:25 am
Oh sure - just when I pretty much understood this (enough to make sense in my mind) you throw "parallel compression" at me! :)
Oh it's just a fancy way to say mix both the compressed and uncompressed signals together. If you cared enough to experiment with it, you could just create a send in Mixcraft, and then put your compressor on the send instead of your original track(s).

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Acoustica Greg
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by Acoustica Greg » Fri Jan 10, 2020 3:06 pm

Here's an old graphic I made about parallel compression:

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Mark Bliss
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by Mark Bliss » Sat Jan 11, 2020 8:04 am

Ok, this thread has wandered off the original topic a bit, lets back up... 8)

I'm gonna differ from the other fine advise here a bit on this specific question Bill.

Opinion and experience being this:
With little exception, EZDrummers sounds are already heavily processed. Which means compressed, etc. So I use them differently than recorded drums.
While theres nothing wrong with a little additional compression on a drum bus if you wish, most of the other great suggestions apply primarily to raw recorded drums IMO.
I suggest the approach of finding an EZD sound you like and using it more as it is....

As to the technical aspects, theres certainly nothing wrong with being aware of levels. Gain staging properly, for example can lead to superior results. But try to avoid hyper-focusing. I have been guilty. It takes effort.... :lol:

I would suggest that -16 (avg. Not peak) is a great starting point for recording levels. sometimes you learn theres exceptions and reasons to vary from that a little. But thats recording, not mixing.
I think for mixing, based on your description, you probably need to push the kick/snare up higher and mix around that. Dont worry so much about the individual track levels. -16 is likely to simply be too low, from what you are describing?

I do have a target range of -6 (peak) on my master bus, (pre-mastering) but I dont obsess over precision. Its not critical, it just saves me time preparing for mastering if you know what I mean.

Hope that helps?
Stay in tune, Mark

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BillW
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Re: EZ Drummer levels

Post by BillW » Sat Jan 11, 2020 9:07 am

Very helpful Mark - being specific to EZ Drummer.

Putting compression on helped my goal of getting the peak and average levels under control - but the sound was really no different as I said. So I wondered if I was simply "checking a box" to doing things the way I think they "should" be done for no real "sound" reason (pun intended.

And perhaps the answers here were indeed talking about drums in general not realizing EZ Drummer does a lot of that out of the box.

What I certainly DON'T want to do is obsess over this. "If it sounds good, leave it" is probably the best advise.

But seeing things on the meter hit the red or come very close is probably not something to ignore either.

I listened to my mix with headphones rather my computer speakers and the kick was in fact way too strong. So I have to remember that while my computer speakers are not crap, they aren't meant for audio of this type either.

More to consider - thanks!
Mixcraft 8 Pro (32bit) runs fine on a Toshiba Satellite C55-B laptop with a wimpy Celeron N2830 (dual core). Now using 64bit on a "less wimpy" Dell 660S/Dual Core Pentium/8GB RAM.

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