Reference Master? (Looking for Modern Dynamic Pop/EDM)

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RobC
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Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 24 Oct 2018

Let's face it, I can't use Thriller, cause it has limitations applied due to vinyl era.
Neither can I use Ma Baker, cause it may have a timeless feel, still, even more vinyl flavor.

I'm looking for something that has a frequency response what even professional mastering engineers can agree, that it's good if your song's frequency spectrum is / sounds something alike. Where the "equalization" in general sounds optimal, decent. Something that has a response between 20-15000 Hz at least and makes use of the low end.

My raw mixes sit well together, and so, they are very easy to equalize, but as long as I don't have a better system, it's pointless to not use a reference.

So, I'd like to ask for some guide songs ~ can be electro-pop, EDM/IDM, mostly dance in general, and fills the whole frequency spectrum. Please?

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selig
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Post 24 Oct 2018

OK, here's my recent favorite "test the system" mix. It's a great example of kick in front, bass in back for the first part, but there's a section where the subwoofer WILL be tested (wait for it).
The drums are super punchy, the mix is well balanced (and fairly complex and layered in sections), and importantly sounds great on every system I've played it on (and even better on a great system). Plus, it's a fun and exciting track to listen to (important IMO).

Luckily almost all music fills the whole frequency spectrum, but they all "fill" it differently ("frequency" is just one quality of audio, and "time" is always a factor not to be ignored).

The most important thing when looking for reference mixes is YOUR reaction, not anyone else's.



What I like:
Besides the big sub section, it's fairly bright with a good dose of mid range overall. However, the mid range instruments are not harsh or edgy, rather, they are "forward" and "present" which lends to the overall "aggressive" feel of the track IMO.
Here's what the peak spectrum looks like, accumulated by playing the entire mix while having "hold" engaged on the Spectrum display (handy when trying to see the "big picture" over time of a track).
Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 8.56.48 AM.png
You can see not only the exaggerated low energy but also the pushed mid frequencies, and the middle 5-6 octaves of the spectrum are nearly "flat", as opposed to the more traditional pink noise 3dB/Oct slope across the entire mix. There are many ways to "fill" the spectrum…
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RobC
Posts: 929
Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 24 Oct 2018

selig wrote:
24 Oct 2018
OK, here's my recent favorite "test the system" mix. It's a great example of kick in front, bass in back for the first part, but there's a section where the subwoofer WILL be tested (wait for it).
The drums are super punchy, the mix is well balanced (and fairly complex and layered in sections), and importantly sounds great on every system I've played it on (and even better on a great system). Plus, it's a fun and exciting track to listen to (important IMO).

Luckily almost all music fills the whole frequency spectrum, but they all "fill" it differently ("frequency" is just one quality of audio, and "time" is always a factor not to be ignored).

The most important thing when looking for reference mixes is YOUR reaction, not anyone else's.



What I like:
Besides the big sub section, it's fairly bright with a good dose of mid range overall. However, the mid range instruments are not harsh or edgy, rather, they are "forward" and "present" which lends to the overall "aggressive" feel of the track IMO.
Here's what the peak spectrum looks like, accumulated by playing the entire mix while having "hold" engaged on the Spectrum display (handy when trying to see the "big picture" over time of a track).
Screen Shot 2018-10-24 at 8.56.48 AM.png

You can see not only the exaggerated low energy but also the pushed mid frequencies, and the middle 5-6 octaves of the spectrum are nearly "flat", as opposed to the more traditional pink noise 3dB/Oct slope across the entire mix. There are many ways to "fill" the spectrum…
I did a lot of comparisons back and forth with some of my songs, and I think there even was one song that had similar bass response, and characteristics. That's good so far, but I'd rather just call it my luck, when I didn't use any references. But it doesn't make overly much use of the 20-40 Hz region. That's what I'd love to be able to set up as well.
Also, I guess there aren't many dynamic songs these days ~ mostly meaning non-squashed masters, that wouldn't be affected by the loudness war.

I'll definitely keep time in mind too.

While I understand your point about what impact something makes on me, I'm a bit worried about how my system colors sound. Some things can sound better on it than others. Which can be misleading.

Your insight to the song's spectrum kind of reminds me of what Normen said, too regarding unique characteristics of individual sounds. So I guess this yet again is a situation, where I can't just equalize a song to another one, cause each will have their own character in the end.

All in all, it seems, referencing can mostly help with revealing when something is overly off.

Funny thing is, that this song example yet again is a different character ~ cause earlier Thriller as an example sounded sharp and clean; Ma Baker had this interesting mid-bass focus.

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selig
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Post 24 Oct 2018

I feel like for me, the reason for reference tracks is to acclimate my ears to the system I’m working on (especially if it’s not my home system). I listen to ref tracks while getting ready (or getting set up) to work on other music. I prefer to just absorb the effect of the track on my system, and I guess what I’m doing is “tuning in” to the track.

Here’s how I think it works for me. As I listen to the track, my ears adapt to the playback system. That is to say, I tune my hearing to the system using a track I already know to sound good across multiple systems.

After about 10-15 minutes (which is one reason why you need more than one reference song) I’m all tuned up!

What happens next is that when I play MY song, I will automatically compare it to the memory of the ref tracks. I don’t necessarily play them back to back - I’m not trying to “match” the tracks, again, I’m only trying to tune my ears to my system.

This is pretty much the opposite of tuning the system to my ears, which is what you seem to want to do, so maybe my approach is totally wrong for you. But I thought I’d share it anyway in case you may find all or part of it useful in some way (even if it’s not the way I find it useful!).



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RobC
Posts: 929
Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 26 Oct 2018

selig wrote:
24 Oct 2018
I feel like for me, the reason for reference tracks is to acclimate my ears to the system I’m working on (especially if it’s not my home system). I listen to ref tracks while getting ready (or getting set up) to work on other music. I prefer to just absorb the effect of the track on my system, and I guess what I’m doing is “tuning in” to the track.

Here’s how I think it works for me. As I listen to the track, my ears adapt to the playback system. That is to say, I tune my hearing to the system using a track I already know to sound good across multiple systems.

After about 10-15 minutes (which is one reason why you need more than one reference song) I’m all tuned up!

What happens next is that when I play MY song, I will automatically compare it to the memory of the ref tracks. I don’t necessarily play them back to back - I’m not trying to “match” the tracks, again, I’m only trying to tune my ears to my system.

This is pretty much the opposite of tuning the system to my ears, which is what you seem to want to do, so maybe my approach is totally wrong for you. But I thought I’d share it anyway in case you may find all or part of it useful in some way (even if it’s not the way I find it useful!).



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I believe that could work. Though when it comes to sound design, it's very easy to mess up, cause ears adapt quickly. Think designing a kick drum. The other day, I set a sine-based kick's pitch envelope between around 80 Hz and down to 20 Hz; plus dynamics envelope. Eventually, it sounded great on its own. In a mix - useless. Obviously it's just the low end and needs a tap/click a body, harmonics, etc.
Ears can use some music washing, or I don't know, maybe checking a pink noise ~ maybe I record saying "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." and comparing harmonics.

One question remains, though not likely when mixing, but don't you ever get "de-tuned"?

Nonono, I dropped that tuning the system to my ears idea. Didn't work no way. And like I said, I did comparisons and tests for hours with your song example and description. I think I got the point of it all.

I'm rather happy to know that mixes can have their unique characteristics. Though there certainly are some tricks, like when it comes to Thriller for example, which I think has a slight "disco-smile" flavor to it. So maybe they decreased the mids a bit?

There's that TweakHeadz blog, which mentioned this "disco-smile" equalization, that kind of gave a little extra to some hits, apparently.
Personally, I'm still not a fan of touching a whole mix, cause it affects every single sound in it. Neither that "gluing a mix together" thing. I mean, it's a poor mix that needs to be glued together, no?

Also, thank you for all the help!

These days I was thinking about getting acoustic foam and trying to sound-proof the whole room. But I think I read somewhere, that it won't necessarily make it respond in a flat way (no echoing, reverberation), even with bass traps, and sound proof floor. And that small rooms aren't the best for the purpose.

RobC
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Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 10 Nov 2018

How about this one? Can somebody check if this would make a good reference for sub bass? (Just some pop thing I found with a quick search.)


jlgrimes
Posts: 271
Joined: 06 Jun 2017

Post 14 Nov 2018

RobC wrote:
24 Oct 2018
Let's face it, I can't use Thriller, cause it has limitations applied due to vinyl era.
Neither can I use Ma Baker, cause it may have a timeless feel, still, even more vinyl flavor.

I'm looking for something that has a frequency response what even professional mastering engineers can agree, that it's good if your song's frequency spectrum is / sounds something alike. Where the "equalization" in general sounds optimal, decent. Something that has a response between 20-15000 Hz at least and makes use of the low end.

My raw mixes sit well together, and so, they are very easy to equalize, but as long as I don't have a better system, it's pointless to not use a reference.

So, I'd like to ask for some guide songs ~ can be electro-pop, EDM/IDM, mostly dance in general, and fills the whole frequency spectrum. Please?
Probably better using songs you like. Who says you can't use Thriller? Yes it isn't a modern mix but it can be a good thing especially if you are going for a retro early 80s funk Daft Punkish sound. Sometimes old mixes are good as they are more midrange focused and can give clues on your midrange.

Song I like

Zedd Clarity

Great use of dynamics, very clean vocal sound, subtle use of background vocals.

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jam-s
Posts: 474
Joined: 17 Apr 2015
Location: Aachen, Germany

Post 14 Nov 2018

jlgrimes wrote:
14 Nov 2018
Song I like

Zedd Clarity

Great use of dynamics, very clean vocal sound, subtle use of background vocals.
... and if you're going for a more up-beat denpa style reference, you can simply switch to this remix:



;) OSU!
If you're in Aachen, come and visit us at the Voidspace.

mcatalao
Posts: 785
Joined: 17 Jan 2015

Post 15 Nov 2018

You can use thriller if that's the sound you're into, specially if you get a mastered for CD version because it was probably mastered from the mix session tape. Those guys were thoughrrow so they did versions of everything, even with the cost of tape at the time, so you will have a master for cd that didn't adhere to vinyl's limitation.

Anyway... I'd use multiple songs for reference, so that you can mix/master in context to the type of songs you're working on.

For balance and loudness, i use Bob Kats honor roll list as reference, but i have stuff from all over the place, artists and producers!
It's not a rule and these are not perfect because you have to be judiscious about genres, but helped me on a lot of times:
https://www.digido.com/honor-roll/

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selig
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Post 16 Nov 2018

mcatalao wrote:For balance and loudness, i use Bob Kats honor roll list as reference, but i have stuff from all over the place, artists and producers!
It's not a rule and these are not perfect because you have to be judiscious about genres, but helped me on a lot of times:
https://www.digido.com/honor-roll/
You can find plenty from this classic list to fit your tastes, and I tend to feel that even beyond genre there are basics that apply in all cases. This way if for example you want “heavy” bass on a track, you use any of these mixes to find a good starting point - then push it a little from there. This is the “you have to know the rules before you can break them” concept, the reason being when you want something to sound “mainstream” vs “outsider” (as you first need to know what each of these sounds like). Speaking of which, I wonder where to find an “outsider” list for music for folks like Tom Waits, T Bone Burnette, Todd Rungren, Captain Beefheart, Throbbing Gristle, The Residents, Flaming Lips, Sun Ra, etc, etc...

Always good to have many of these classic tracks in your listening catalogue even if you don’t use them as a reference when mixing!


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RobC
Posts: 929
Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 17 Nov 2018

jlgrimes wrote:
14 Nov 2018
RobC wrote:
24 Oct 2018
Let's face it, I can't use Thriller, cause it has limitations applied due to vinyl era.
Neither can I use Ma Baker, cause it may have a timeless feel, still, even more vinyl flavor.

I'm looking for something that has a frequency response what even professional mastering engineers can agree, that it's good if your song's frequency spectrum is / sounds something alike. Where the "equalization" in general sounds optimal, decent. Something that has a response between 20-15000 Hz at least and makes use of the low end.

My raw mixes sit well together, and so, they are very easy to equalize, but as long as I don't have a better system, it's pointless to not use a reference.

So, I'd like to ask for some guide songs ~ can be electro-pop, EDM/IDM, mostly dance in general, and fills the whole frequency spectrum. Please?
Probably better using songs you like. Who says you can't use Thriller? Yes it isn't a modern mix but it can be a good thing especially if you are going for a retro early 80s funk Daft Punkish sound. Sometimes old mixes are good as they are more midrange focused and can give clues on your midrange.

Song I like

Zedd Clarity

Great use of dynamics, very clean vocal sound, subtle use of background vocals.
Nothing wrong with the Thriller album, in fact, a few years ago when I got sick of the loudness war, I thought "it's time to make mixes sound good instead of squashed" - and Billie Jean was one of the first songs that got to my mind when it comes to dynamics.
Now, I do have sort of a mixing style or imagination how I want it all to be, but I was stuck with sub bass, especially lower region.

RobC
Posts: 929
Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 17 Nov 2018

jam-s wrote:
14 Nov 2018
jlgrimes wrote:
14 Nov 2018
Song I like

Zedd Clarity

Great use of dynamics, very clean vocal sound, subtle use of background vocals.
... and if you're going for a more up-beat denpa style reference, you can simply switch to this remix:



;) OSU!
I'll check out both versions, hope they also use 20-40 Hz region ~

RobC
Posts: 929
Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 17 Nov 2018

mcatalao wrote:
15 Nov 2018
You can use thriller if that's the sound you're into, specially if you get a mastered for CD version because it was probably mastered from the mix session tape. Those guys were thoughrrow so they did versions of everything, even with the cost of tape at the time, so you will have a master for cd that didn't adhere to vinyl's limitation.

Anyway... I'd use multiple songs for reference, so that you can mix/master in context to the type of songs you're working on.

For balance and loudness, i use Bob Kats honor roll list as reference, but i have stuff from all over the place, artists and producers!
It's not a rule and these are not perfect because you have to be judiscious about genres, but helped me on a lot of times:
https://www.digido.com/honor-roll/
I think it's mastered for CD, but they still seem to have cut back below 20-40 Hz.

Yes, that's what I'm planning to do, it's just that songs rarely use that lower sub region ~ still, any I can find, can help set it, so I don't ridiculously over do it.

Hmm, that seems to be a good idea with Katz! Gonna check that too!

RobC
Posts: 929
Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 17 Nov 2018

selig wrote:
16 Nov 2018
mcatalao wrote:For balance and loudness, i use Bob Kats honor roll list as reference, but i have stuff from all over the place, artists and producers!
It's not a rule and these are not perfect because you have to be judiscious about genres, but helped me on a lot of times:
https://www.digido.com/honor-roll/
You can find plenty from this classic list to fit your tastes, and I tend to feel that even beyond genre there are basics that apply in all cases. This way if for example you want “heavy” bass on a track, you use any of these mixes to find a good starting point - then push it a little from there. This is the “you have to know the rules before you can break them” concept, the reason being when you want something to sound “mainstream” vs “outsider” (as you first need to know what each of these sounds like). Speaking of which, I wonder where to find an “outsider” list for music for folks like Tom Waits, T Bone Burnette, Todd Rungren, Captain Beefheart, Throbbing Gristle, The Residents, Flaming Lips, Sun Ra, etc, etc...

Always good to have many of these classic tracks in your listening catalogue even if you don’t use them as a reference when mixing!


Sent from some crappy device using Tapatalk
Yeah, what I linked starts off with seemingly terribly boosted lower sub. If I had access a proper flat system, I'd probably set sub frequencies, so they aren't overly above, nor below the mix, but are optimal. 35 Hz low range PA speakers won't do xD and headphones that have 6-9 dB drop down to 20 Hz also make it near impossible for my ears to get used to, or hear enough sub. I was thinking about getting that $ 100 category Audio Technica ATH-E40, as they say it has "powerful bass". And then later the E70 (~ $ 400) which is said to be perfectly balanced. Then I can switch back and forth the two when doing sound design, and mixing.
Yes, a guide that applies generally, is definitely what I want as that starting point. I can notice how the song I linked goes crazy with lower sub in the beginning, but becomes more normal during the main parts. Personally, I think I just want it all to be normal, and if I want something to step out for a moment, there are tons production/arrangement/mixing tricks to do so that don't require boosts.

mcatalao
Posts: 785
Joined: 17 Jan 2015

Post 18 Nov 2018

IMHO i think you are stressing it too much. If anything, you should trim your mix a bit under 40 Hz. The energy on an under 40 Hz wave on any normal system most times induce rumbling and most ME's will roll down under that with a 6db or more Hpf. So if i were in your shoes, I would not stress it too much as most of everything is happening over that (35-40 Hz) and unless you're mixing/mastering specific for club systems, anything under that is going to crap out your listener's experience.

BTW, the example you send has a 10 db roll off at 40 Hz. You can check that passing the song for any eq, and see when the kick hits that the roll of is there:


RobC
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Joined: 10 Mar 2018

Post 20 Nov 2018

mcatalao wrote:
18 Nov 2018
IMHO i think you are stressing it too much. If anything, you should trim your mix a bit under 40 Hz. The energy on an under 40 Hz wave on any normal system most times induce rumbling and most ME's will roll down under that with a 6db or more Hpf. So if i were in your shoes, I would not stress it too much as most of everything is happening over that (35-40 Hz) and unless you're mixing/mastering specific for club systems, anything under that is going to crap out your listener's experience.

BTW, the example you send has a 10 db roll off at 40 Hz. You can check that passing the song for any eq, and see when the kick hits that the roll of is there:

I design sounds from scratch, too, so I kind of want to settle down somewhere. Clearly, if I'd do cuts at 40 Hz, then as I create a kick drum, I wouldn't let it pitch lower than 40 Hz.

However, what about headphone users, and the more popular bassy in-ear phones? In my experience, even if I need to turn my current one up, it can deliver the lower sub pretty clean.
And non-indie media would use their own mastering anyway, but when it comes to my own version, why couldn't it have it?

As for that song, when isolated with a FIR filter, the 20-40 Hz region is very heavy at the start. Later on yes, there's not overly much happening below 40 Hz, so it's not the best reference.

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