This can be the most enjoyable bit! Generally in the course of creating edit proofs I’ll have arrived at a reasonable working mix, but now the editing is complete I can focus on achieving the ideal sound balance. If it’s just a basic stereo track then apart from occasionally tweaking the stereo width, or applying a little EQ, it’s a matter of supplementing the venue acoustic as necessary using one of the Altiverb library of samples. Although I have my shortlist of favourites, it’s nearly always worth experimenting with a range of options. Sometimes an unexpected combination of venue and sample can sound particularly beautiful, then it’s just a matter of deciding how much to add. There is an ever-present temptation to overdo it, and this is one of those scenarios where less can indeed be more.
More often than not the dynamic range will need some consideration. Although the classical world is not generally afflicted with the same loudness obsession as pop, it’s not unusual that clients are keen to ensure that their production doesn’t sound quiet in relation to the competition. My aim is to be as subtle as possible! The approach used will of course depend on the musical texture but typically there are two elements to this – high level and low level.
Choral music in particular almost always benefits from attention to high level sound in the mid-range which can create considerable peak energy which is very difficult to reproduce cleanly and comfortably in domestic surroundings. Indeed it can be uncomfortable in the live situation too! The sophisticated multiband compression software now available is invaluable here. In addition, a few dBs of multiband peak limiting can gain a little more loudness with no readily detectable loss – usually it’s only kicking in a handful of times in the whole album.
There may well be a few quiet passages which still feel too ‘distant’, and the solution here is to gently raise their level by a few dBs. This is best done by setting the level changes manually rather than by using compression software which can produce audible ‘pumping’ effects at times.