Balancing Templates?

Hello Gurus

I’ve created a large orchestral template about a thousand tracks. It has instruments from many manufacturers. Ultimately I want to balance these sounds so they can be used interchangeably.
I have created a folder for each instrument from piccolo to contrabass. I have one instrument per instance of the carrier (Halion, Kontakt, Play). Inside each instrument folder I might have up to ten different flutes, or clarinets depending on the folder. Some are Kontakt, some are Halion Symphonic orchestra or Iconica and a few are independent samplers like East West’s Play.

The intention with this Master Template is to use it as a track depository from where I ma audition and import sounds into other projects.

I might say that each instrument type has its own group which then feeds its a section group (e.g brass, woodwinds) then on to a master Orchestral group. But I want to save adjustments there for actual composing, not set up which I am doing now.

There is a considerable range in the volumes straight out of the box across manufacturers piccolo versus piccolo, timpani versus timpani.

At the moment I am trying to create approximate aural parity - like for like articulation across manufacturers. This is proving to be a challenge. There are several ways to change the volumes. Here I list the most used: In the instrument GUI gain control (if present) , in the Master volume of its player. In Cubase’s pre-gain control, lastly in Cubase’s instrument fader or in the CC1 and 11.

My thinking is that I should use the pre-gain in Cubase. This is because the master volume or GUI volume in each type of manufacturers player, many vary and some GUI may not even have a gain control.

I am pretty useless and understanding the language of Peak volumes, dBs, loudness meters. RMS and all the other lingo, yet I am wondering if the Control Room meters might be used to help objectively balance the sounds of each instrument class (on say sustain notes).

From an engineering perspective what would be the right approach?

Seems to me that whatever levels you settle on the best you can do is get everything in the same ballpark and you are always going to have make a lot of adjustments in the context of a real Project. But at least you’d have a good starting point. Perceived loudness is pretty context sensitive - for example what other instruments/sounds are also occurring or is the Instrument playing higher notes or lower notes. And when it comes down to it you don’t actually want your Viola’s pizz to be as loud as a French Horn (or even the Viola’s legato). The point being I don’t think you should necessarily aim for everything sounding as loud as everything else. But all the same Instruments should be about as loud as each other - all your legato Violins from different places should be similarly loud.

While it is tempting to use the CR Loudness meter, I would avoid it because

  1. Loudness is measured over a period of time which isn’t really what you are interested in
  2. It biases you to make decisions based on your eyes and not ears.

Here is how I would approach it.

  1. Load up all the Instrument Tracks that are similar to each other (e.g. legato Violins) in the MixConsole
  2. Adjust the level on each Instrument to be about -6dB (or whatever level you prefer) on the Track’s Meter
  3. Pick one Track/Instance to use as your reference - this is what you’ll match the other Tracks to
  4. Adjust all the remaining Track levels, A/B-ing them to match the reference based on listening

Some other things to consider or try out. When comparing you could use a MIDI Part to test instead of playing so that you’re always hearing the same performance. In your test Part vary the velocity of different notes so you can hear how different VSTi’s respond. It’s likely the velocity response will be different. Your options then are to set the level so it matches in the velocity range you most use (or some other compromise taking the variation into account) or changing the Velocity Response Curve in the VSTi if that’s available. You might also, for the A/B, pan your reference to one speaker and the other Track to the other speaker. This might make it easier or harder so it is a trial and error choice.

And make sure to take frequent breaks so your ears can recalibrate themselves.