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Why doesn't anything I make sound 'good'?

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  • Why doesn't anything I make sound 'good'?

    Hey all. I had a question that I wanted to pose to all of you, a bit of a personal woe, and I thought maybe there could be somebody out there that could help me.

    So after a year and a bit of trying my hand at producing ambient music through Ableton Live, there hasn't been one track that I have come out with or completed that doesn't sound utterly flat. I was never good at mastering, nor could I even get my head around how the process works, so I had resorted to just using 'synths that sound good from the get go' such as Animoog for iOS, which has become my main instrument in pretty much everything that I do.

    But it's whenever I go to make a track using one of my VSTs like Massive or Absynth that everything starts to sounds completely dull and unexpressive. There doesn't seem to be any warmth in the sound itself and no amount of mastering that I do seems to make any composition sound good, or even ok at the very least. It's pretty darn frustrating. A friend of mine that I was chatting to just told me to 'use good sounding stuff from the get go', claiming that he does little to no mastering on his tracks because of that.

    I really am at a loss. :S I would really appreciate a few pointers.

  • #2
    Many questions here. First of all: what do you mean with "good" ? Not professional, not like "someone", not how you like ?
    I work with Live because routing tracks, send/return, is so easy. I don't think you can master only with internal effects in Live. Yes, you can but ....
    If you understand how a synth work, you can achieve pretty much everything. I presume you know how, Animoog is a synth, no ?
    If not, start with the presets, or external presets, there is a lot to sell on the web (some are free).
    Start to find sounds close to what you want and try to make some changes and see what happen.
    You can also find tons of free tutorial online, specially for Massive. Try "tutorial Massive" in Youtube.
    Same for mixing. You can't save a bad mix with mastering. You must be happy about your mix, before mastering.
    And the most important, listen to good music, music you like and trust your ears.

    Maybe a pro can give you better advice but that's all i can say to help you.



    • #3
      Hey there,

      Have you thought about trying different techniques? For example, if you have Reaktor, load up space drone, find a preset you like and record it for a couple of minutes, render it to .wav then timestretch it in Paulstretch, pitch shift it down an octave and you can get some pretty cool textures.

      If you want mastering advice feel free to email me at [email protected], mastering audio was my profession for many years so I'll be more than happy to discuss techniques or even master some tracks for you.

      My record label


      • #4
        If you don't have Reaktor, maybe you have Live 9 suite. Try the Max for live device Granulator II, put a ping-pong delay and/or the convolution reverb (also a Max for live device).
        I can help you with this if you want. I use it a lot.

        Mikael, if you're fine with helping on mastering, you can sometimes save me..... :biggrin:


        • #5
          Originally posted by alias9593 View Post
          You can't save a bad mix with mastering. You must be happy about your mix, before mastering.
          And the most important, listen to good music, music you like and trust your ears.

          I am constantly preaching to beginners that mastering is not a magic wand one can wave around and instantly their music comes to life and sounds amazing. Time spent getting the music to sound right in both the compositional phase and the mixing phase is paramount if you are going to achieve the sound you want to. As for the technical side, it sounds like improper equalization could be the problem, resulting in what you would call dull and unimpressive. Make sure you have an EQ that you know how to use and put it on every channel and think of yourself like a sonic sculptor. Carve out the sound you want to achieve. Also, as Alias has mentioned, find sounds, or even music by artists that are close to what you want to hear and then push towards that ideal. I've done that many times in the past and it's served me well.

          Originally posted by alias9593 View Post
          Maybe a pro can give you better advice but that's all i can say to help you.
          You've given some pretty pro advice already! Nice work.

          Best of luck Theta. If you want to, post some tracks here and we'll take a listen to it. Perhaps after hearing what you're talking about we'll be able to help you better.

          S1gns Of L1fe
          Patreon | Synphaera | exosphere | YouTube


          • #6
            do you use compressors in your effect-chains? if not, try it out.


            • #7
              Hey, I've listened to some of your sound cloud and I don't hear "flat" or "not good." I hear some wonderful nuggets of sounds and atmospheres, some of them very intriguing as I noted in the comment box. I can't advise, I'm very low tech, basic equipment, little knowledge etc but I can tell you that I like what I heard :listening: The hardest aim for me is to get the balance between a variety of sounds and provocations whilst not flooding the track, keeping it simple. How and if I actually achieve that is an unknown! Keep on keeping on
              It's all an illusion.



              • #8
                one other trick to add some motion to flat sound is by using filters (the more, the better) and changing the pitch and the amount of these filters slightly (less is better than more here) by some lfo's. the lfo's speeds should not be in sync with the tempo in the daw and schould not be in sync with each other. the speeds can vary from very fast to very slow - even using an lfo to change the speed of another lfo is possible. you can use lfo's for auto-panning or for changing parameters of delays and any other effect too.

                but when I listen to your tracks I think you know all the tricks


                • #9
                  I read your posting again: you talk about Massive and Absynth ... I didn't use Massive but I used Absynth a lot and I found it dull too. The only reason I hang around with Absynth was its abiltity to use microtonal scales ... the time has changed things here and I switched over to Zebra and Diva for synth-sounds, but most I use samples now. Especially Diva has a warmth and liveness in its sounds (not in all, of course) that I personally didn't find on oher VST-synths. For me, the keys of the keyboard feel different when I play Diva. But everyone will have a special favorite synth ... shortly spoken, I didn't use Absynth for years now because of other sound-sources. One part of my secret swiss-knive for warming up sounds is the TAL III Reverb


                  • #10
                    I think the problems you describe, most musicians struggle with from time to time. And that's good : ) It's the way to improvement and it signals that you are listening intently to your work. And I agree with Sky High Diamonds: When I hear your tracks they are not boring or flat - but naturally they can evolve.

                    The advice you have had here so far is very good: Work with good synths and effects (contrary to most I try to stay away from Native Instruments, though Kontakt is almost impossible to avoid), use eq to sculpt every track, compression can help sometimes (sometimes ruining things), compose wisely, dissect other's music repeatedly and take notes.

                    The worse (flat/boring) the source sound is, the more processing the sound needs. Here you may have to use many of the classic tricks: Double reverbs (one short and one long), a little delay, doubling a sound and panning them L/R, add more "air" with eq, layer different sounds and so on. It can be difficult but very fun.

                    I would also recommend reading Sound On Sound. I find their advice and way of thinking very useful.
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                    • #11
                      the ear and brain crave motion, variety, in what they process. LFOs, Envelopes, and other modulations are your friend. Subtlety goes a long way, because you can have too much, too (unless you're doing psytrance lol....) going on, too.

                      And when in doubt, hammer the sound with something from Audio Damage or Glitchmachines >.>

                      I actually like to put FSU plugins on a Send so that their sound is added to, and not mauling, the sound I want them to mangle. Then I can adjust the level and pan of the whatever comes out, and not overwhelm anything else going on.


                      • #12
                        Maybe you're not confortable with Native stuffs, try U-he, for example. You can get Podolski or Zebralette or Tyrell N6 for free. So you can make your opinion. Diva and Zebra have also a demo version.
                        That's the advantage of sotware, you can push and turn every knob, nothing will be broken. Just start again.
                        We can only give some ideas, maybe fresh ideas, but you will find your own way, sure.
                        Layering can also be a good way to give live and colours to your pads. I usually use synths, field recording and granulator effect or synth on the same track.
                        One other thing i learned was very useful for me. When my track is in a final version (melody, length, structure), when it's time to "mix".
                        I start a new one and after a day or two i come back with fresh ears. Most of the time, when i come back, mistakes are jumping in my face.
                        The second advantage is that i avoid this terrifying question : Will i find inspiration for the next one ?
                        Or maybe i'm the only one having such a question.

                        Hope we can help you


                        • #13
                          some days I have inspiration for 10 tracks or more, some days there comes nothing in my mind ... :roll:


                          • #14
                            I'm listening to your bandcamp EP and it doesn't sound dull. Many people say your stuff doesn't sound dull here. So perhaps you are overthinking, have unrealistic expectations given your gear, or maybe you need to get better headphones or monitors? Just my 2 cents. Hope you will be happier with your music.


                            • #15
                              Ambient music can often sound great, even without mastering. I'm still evolving/adapting my "default mastering chain" for this, but my current experience has been that, at the very least, the settings used must be adapted on a track-by-track basis, and often the components within the chain will vary.

                              When composing more minimal pieces, I sometimes try to limit a track to the use of a single synth preset, and work around the limitations using variations, maybe different FX on certain registers. "Absent" is made using 3 or 4 instances of the same basic synth patch in DominatorCM and 3 'tron patches to vary the sound later on.

                              KrisM's tip about parallel routing the FX with the clean output from a synth, is something I've started to tinker with in the last six months in EnergyXT's modular view. Especially in my techno tracks. I use a lot of volume automation to change the sound balance between the wet and dry outputs. I also find that some saturation and a Stereoizer can help to give mixes a little extra movement. Having some good reverbs is a necessity. I use IK CSR for the bread and butter sounds, and Reflex/Shimmer/EOS/B2 for the lush stuff. Panning, levelling and EQ are also a very important, part of the production process, but any DAW can do this reasonably well. Fortunately, I quite enjoy the process of mixing, so I'm quite happy to take whatever time is required to get the job done. I do find mixing to be quite a tiring process, so try to limit myself to 4 hours maximum per day, in order that any decisions made during the process are made with relatively fresh ears.
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