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Old 12-12-2016, 01:07 PM   #1
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Icon5 What level for stems to use in a live set?

I now that when mixing it's a good practice to reach for 6dB of headroom on the master channel, to have enough of it for the mastering phase. But when you are mixing tracks for a live set, what levels should your stems be?

What is the best option: pic to 0dB on the master channel and then add a limiter in your live set to avoid clipping (and destroying the PA if you accidentally rip on your fader...), or pic to -6dB and have a full mastering chain in your live set that rise the level up?

To me, the problem in the first option is that the tracks will sound a little bit quiet, since there is no compression and limiting at all on the master channel (and no, I didn't say that to make your track loud you have to compress an limit as much as you can). The problem in the second option is that you can't have a single mastering chain that works for ALL your tracks in the set...

But maybe I'm thinking all wrong and there is another solution?

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Old 12-12-2016, 03:09 PM   #2
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

Well you would generally bank on -3 to -6 Db for every track, as an approximation. However, what you should really be doing is putting a hard limiter on your outs and rehearsing and checking your levels as that's the only way you can ensure you get a good sound.
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Old 12-12-2016, 04:25 PM   #3
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

I've never done a live set like that before but I probably wouldn't use a mastering chain when preforming. What I'd do is render all the stems through the chain beforehand so I'm only performing with the rendered audio files and a masterbus limiter just in case.

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Old 12-12-2016, 05:32 PM   #4
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

Also, if the board and sound system are decent they'll be able to push the levels a bit for you.

But I agree with everything that has been said--As Jaded suggests, I'd practice the set to get an idea of how to mix it for live. Once I had that figured I'd likely do what RFJ suggests and try to do some the processing before hand. Like if your drum track just absolutely needed compression, maybe render it out that way.

If it were me, I'd probably leave room to tweak things live as well. I'd want control over some things like delay and reverb parameters. If you are planning on just playing totally pre processed stems that'll work, but there wouldn't be as much room for improvisation in some regards. In my mind, the more you pre-process something the more you are trying to make it predictable, the less you process something you leave more play. Or maybe its more that if you process something a lot to make it predictable, once you start improvising you undo all that work. If you catch my meaning.

I look at it like...where do you want you set to be on the spectrum between someone doing a totally improvised set with a modular and a DJ playing records? To me both are "live" in their own way. One of the major differences is the role of predictability. In the digital age a DJ can very reasonably expect the songs he is playing to always sound the same/play the same. The modular guy not so much.

Anyway, that is how I've always approached these types of live set questions.

Last edited by relic; 13-12-2016 at 05:09 PM..

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Old 13-12-2016, 09:17 AM   #5
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

crank it to red zone or go home.

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Old 13-12-2016, 11:14 AM   #6
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

In live settings, my experience is that less compression sounds better. Just crank the volume, the dynamics will sound great super loud.

Smashed music is for people listening on their smart phone speakers. I think mastering for a PA is a missed opportunity. But there is one exception.. And that is, if you're somebody who's really committed to he whole "no dynamics, shitty wall of sound" aesthetic, then yea I guess you should put 2 multiband compressors and a distortion unit on your master. Lol sorry.. I have friends that make super loud shit and it's great but it's just a one trick pony. One day people will look back on it the way we look a 80s guitar solos.

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Old 13-12-2016, 11:21 AM   #7
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

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Originally Posted by RFJ View Post
What I'd do is render all the stems through the chain beforehand so I'm only performing with the rendered audio files and a masterbus limiter just in case.
Ok but if render the stems one by one through the mastering chain, compressors and stuff will not react as if I send all the stems at once through the chain, and the result would be completely different, am I right?

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I look at it like...where do you want you set to be on the spectrum between someone doing a totally improvised set with a modular and a DJ playing records? To me both are "live" in their own way. One of the major differences is the role of predictability. In the digital age a DJ can very reasonably expect the songs he is playing to always sound the same/play the same. The modular guy not so much.
I'm trying to set up sort of a hybrid live set, with live guitar played by my brother, a sort of break beat drum machine played by me, and 6 stems tracks with on each an effect rack containing the Turnado Vst, some filters, and a KP3+ (hardware).

It's mainly inspired by the Alex Banks live set which he describe very well in this video:


So yeah, I will have to practice a lot this live set in situation before it sounds good...

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Old 13-12-2016, 04:06 PM   #8
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

Personally, I render stem sets down w nothing on the master bus, and such that with everything turned up the mix sounds "right" with a little wiggle room to push things a bit further forward if needed.

When I am playing a "2 channel" set I do use a multiband comp on the output, I use it a bit like a dynamic EQ and try to ensure that while it gives a little bit of a squeeze (typically in the low and high bands for a NY comp sort of effect) that it isnt working too hard. I also keep a parametric eq in the equation, usually in my case (i end up with a lot of low midrange buildup due to excessive use of reverb) to tame those lower mids to make the whole setup sound a little less muddy. I know that sounds a bit backwards, but i really like to have a non-dynamic way of cutting the midrange, I dunno, it just works for me.

The way I really prefer to do things, and when I am playing somewhere that I trust whomever is behind the console (which is a benefit of spending so much time in the same city as a livesound guy) is to send subgroups to the front of house console, so depending on the nature of the tunes, a stereo drum subgroup, a subgroup of melodic stuff, and a stereo set of effected vocals, as well as a mono send of dry vocals to send back to wedges on stage, so the monitor mix isnt a feedback nightmare. I treat each send levels wise the same as i would in the 2 channel setup, minus the EQ and Multiband Comp.


in response to your question of @[Only registered and activated users can see links. Click here to register]
- yes rendering your stems through a master fx bus one by one will get you different results than rendering the whole mix through the same FX. I'd recommend not doing that.

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Old 13-12-2016, 05:08 PM   #9
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

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Old 13-12-2016, 05:15 PM   #10
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

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I've only ever DJ'd on a big sound system so I'm partly talking out of my ass here...but...I don't think the general idea of rendering stems with some processing is a bad idea. The "live" stuff I've recorded in my studio didn't have the benefit of surgical EQ, which might be needed in a dense mix.

I think the ideal solution is as Chase suggests--you need a person on the board playing the mixer like an instrument (maybe I'm taking this further than Chase suggests at this point).

I don't know how much really technical information you might find, I might look into live dub reggae setups. A of those musicians have live shows similar to your setup: a mix of sequenced instruments, live instruments, live FX and recorded material. This is where I've taken a lot of my inspiration when working with live electronic music that isn't on the DJ end of the spectrum.

Also: You might want to do some sessions where you record some of your bros guitar licks. Then theoretically you could do the show by yourself if you needed to. Might be useful creatively as well when the both of you are playing together. Dunno, just spit balling because I should be grading finals!

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Old 13-12-2016, 05:27 PM   #11
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

Dub mixing aside, simply having someone who isn't behind the PA (in your typical stage PA and Monitors scenario) making some adjustments to make things sound better in the room is a benefit.

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Old 13-12-2016, 11:40 PM   #12
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

well the first thing i would ask myself would be "Do I want my live set to sound the same or different from the original mixdown" - if yes - id be concerned about different gain staging and alternative mixing in general


If No - i see you use ableton live - well then can't you just play the project itself instead , then you wouldn't need to worry about different mixing levels, if you're okay with the mixdown project ones.

if you want to unload all of your plugins and processing etc - simply freeze and flat everything and you have everything bounced down , can you work with that , working with smaller files and chunks would be a little less resource hog if instead working with the stems the length of the whole track each of them. that's a lotta of audio input eh. less CPU load, but more RAM load

i just realized that is ableton live specific and i have no idea if you dj/live gig with it or something, i guess one could do live gig with any piece of daw?


but nevermind , about the gain particularly - i'd be rendering down everything to the - 6 ~ -4 range , nothing on the master, unless having specific thing in mind...

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Old 14-12-2016, 05:02 AM   #13
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

It doesn't matter. You're just playing audio clips. The sound guy will make sure you aren't blowing speakers, unless you're using your own PA, in which case just adjust levels so that the loudest sound out of your computer is not breaking the speakers, that's all. You can have stuff maxed out to 0dB on a track, you might distort it a little but beyond audio quality there's no real difference between having a sample at 0dB and a sample at -6dB for live sets. You're just making sound, that's all. Just like you can always turn up an amp, there's nothing that's going to break the time-space continuum. Just set your levels correctly on your amp and loudspeakers, and use whatever you want to use.

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Old 14-12-2016, 05:07 AM   #14
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

DJ's use digital tracks mastered to 0dB. It's just a file. It's only as loud as your speaker. A digital file is just a representation of the actual sound waves. There's no mastering happening between your laptop and the PA (well, sound engineers might do some mixing), but the absolute file volume won't change anything, as long as you have it mixed how you like, and then beyond that it's up to the audio engineers to make it sound ok in whatever venue you're in, but it'll be the same file whether it's -24dB or 0dB (assuming you're not clipping anything).

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Old 14-12-2016, 03:14 PM   #15
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

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DJ's use digital tracks mastered to 0dB. It's just a file. It's only as loud as your speaker. A digital file is just a representation of the actual sound waves.
Yes. But good DJ's don't output two tracks peaking at 0dB on the gains peaking at around 3dB in the master. Good DJ's make sure that their track gains stay well below the red and the master NEVER hits the red. If you just output everything at maximum amplitude, it will sound shit.

Interesting to note is that if you look at most mixers they have a headroom about equal to the +dB amplification per hi, mid, low eq. So if the eqs peak at +6dB the mixer will most likely have 18-19dB headroom.

Quote:
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There's no mastering happening between your laptop and the PA (well, sound engineers might do some mixing), but the absolute file volume won't change anything, as long as you have it mixed how you like, and then beyond that it's up to the audio engineers to make it sound ok in whatever venue you're in, but it'll be the same file whether it's -24dB or 0dB (assuming you're not clipping anything).
Weell... technically if you're summing one or two tracks through a DJ mixer then you're attenuating the input amplitude, running it through a multi-band filter, then summing the result through a master chain which may or may not have insert or send effects. Depending on the mixer, you may also be filtering the master output, and if you're running it hot, it may also apply some output compression.

Now, I'm not saying that mixing two tracks together = mastering. Just that there's a lot of processes taking place between your laptop and the house speakers.

As for the amount of headroom on your signal going into the mixer, well -24dB is giving up a lot of your signal to noise ratio to empty bits. Like if you consider playing a 16-bit wave file with a dynamic range of 96dB FS and you don't use a quarter of that range then you risk introducing signal noise if you were to increase the output amplitude.

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It doesn't matter. You're just playing audio clips.
Well mixing is mixing. Whether you're tracking audio clips or outputs. Summing is summing. And yeah, it kind of does matter how loud your outputs are.

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The sound guy will make sure you aren't blowing speakers, unless you're using your own PA, in which case just adjust levels so that the loudest sound out of your computer is not breaking the speakers, that's all.
It's just as possible that you end up in a room with an output running through a hard limiter that's going to squash anything over 0dB.

I think if you're lucky enough to have a live sound guy who you trust, or is competent or exists, then there's definitely less reason to worry about your dynamics. There's a lot of things that a sound guy can do with the graphic and just by riding your inputs and adjusting the limiter.

But at the same time, if you're sending out a hot signal that's probably already been chopped by the DAW output, audio interface output and mixer because you like redlining, then the sound guy isn't going to miraculously make your sound good.

At the end of the day, live sound is a case of treating your outputs like porridge for Goldilocks. If you don't pay attention it will get to hot or cold and she'll crack the shits at some bears or something
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Old 15-12-2016, 04:54 AM   #16
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Re: What level for stems to use in a live set?

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Originally Posted by Jaded View Post
Yes. But good DJ's don't output two tracks peaking at 0dB on the gains peaking at around 3dB in the master. Good DJ's make sure that their track gains stay well below the red and the master NEVER hits the red. If you just output everything at maximum amplitude, it will sound shit.

Interesting to note is that if you look at most mixers they have a headroom about equal to the +dB amplification per hi, mid, low eq. So if the eqs peak at +6dB the mixer will most likely have 18-19dB headroom.
We're talking about the file itself, not the path the file takes through the mixer. They OP asked if STEMS should have headroom, not the dj mixer.

Quote:
Weell... technically if you're summing one or two tracks through a DJ mixer then you're attenuating the input amplitude, running it through a multi-band filter, then summing the result through a master chain which may or may not have insert or send effects. Depending on the mixer, you may also be filtering the master output, and if you're running it hot, it may also apply some output compression.

Now, I'm not saying that mixing two tracks together = mastering. Just that there's a lot of processes taking place between your laptop and the house speakers.
Yes, it's not mastering, which is what we're talking about.

Quote:
As for the amount of headroom on your signal going into the mixer, well -24dB is giving up a lot of your signal to noise ratio to empty bits. Like if you consider playing a 16-bit wave file with a dynamic range of 96dB FS and you don't use a quarter of that range then you risk introducing signal noise if you were to increase the output amplitude.
-24dB is a perfectly acceptable level. Yes, there's slightly more noise, but we're talking about a track played through a live sound system for a venue, which isn't usually built for high fidelity.

Quote:
Well mixing is mixing. Whether you're tracking audio clips or outputs. Summing is summing. And yeah, it kind of does matter how loud your outputs are.
Just to clarify, again, we're talking about the digital gain in a digital file. There may be something to be said about mixing with the master down at -24dB because the source tracks are pushed to their limits and you have to turn down more, vs. running the master at -12dB because you're source tracks have headroom.

But, I'd probably the majority of music files, especially electronic music, is mixed down so that there is as much digital gain in that music file as possible. Most tracks a DJ is going to mix are most likely going to be hitting 0dB.

Again... we're not talking about the mixer, we're talking about the file itself.

Quote:
It's just as possible that you end up in a room with an output running through a hard limiter that's going to squash anything over 0dB.
Not going to happen with a digital file because it already has a maximum of 0dBFS. Anything that happens beyond that is not due to the digital file.

Quote:
I think if you're lucky enough to have a live sound guy who you trust, or is competent or exists, then there's definitely less reason to worry about your dynamics. There's a lot of things that a sound guy can do with the graphic and just by riding your inputs and adjusting the limiter.

But at the same time, if you're sending out a hot signal that's probably already been chopped by the DAW output, audio interface output and mixer because you like redlining, then the sound guy isn't going to miraculously make your sound good.
Digital files. But you do make a good point that good sound guys are awesome. However, you shouldn't be relying on them to save your mix. You can only make something sound so good.

You need to clarify tho between the headroom of the file and the headroom of whatever is after that, because they are two completely different arenas. A mixer passing a signal from a computer can't rewrite the file.

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