'Sonic Varnish' - some great advice

May 6, 2012

  1. dag451 SEMAPHORE

    269 posts
    Since Aug 16, 2010
    Easy dogs,

    This has been mentioned in a post somewhere recently already, but I thought this article really deserved its own thread.

    Allen Farmelo uses a great analogy to describe the use of subtle layers of processing to achieve a better overall sound.

    It really has some great advice in it, and is definitely worth a good read:

    "Sonic Varnish"
  2. Tube Jerk

    Tube Jerk
    2,376 posts
    Since Dec 17, 2003
    always thought of it the same way!!! it really is akin to french polishing.

    it's not always desirable tho: in headphones, and on the hi-fi, and in other close listening environments it can be great, but on a sound system it translates to cloudiness. Soundsystems have too much of a THD rating to make it worthwhile over-polishing things, and the more direct the signal is, the nicer it'll sound, because you end up using the sound system itself as the varnishing medium, driving into it slightly, and using the inherent properties of the amps and speakers themselves to present your signal, so its not always good practice to over-gloss evrything.
  3. roringtonsmithe

    400 posts
    Since Feb 1, 2010
    Man great article. Thanks for sharing.

    It's so true. ITB it's so tempting to 'paint' over everything because it's so easy to do so. I equate it to when amateurs get their hands on Photoshop and totally over-saturate and over-filter their images because they are differences that they can notice immediately, whether it improves the image or not (usually not). Photoshop is pretty much my day job so I know that it's all about building up layers with minute differences to make a convincing whole. Never thought about mixing in the same way though.
  4. dag451 SEMAPHORE

    269 posts
    Since Aug 16, 2010
    Over-doing the polishing is definitely not a good thing. But I think that is part of the point he is trying to make with the article. Subtle touches with high-quality processes will just allow the sounds to shine. Like my lecturer told me in college - only use things when you need to. It is worth asking yourself if what you're doing is really contributing anything to the sound at all.

    I like to think of one of Bruce Lee's maxims when considering processing:
    "It is not daily increase but daily decrease, hack away at the unessential."

    I also really like the comparison with visual medium as a metaphor. I know we are dealing with audio here, and as such should trust our ears, but the parallels between the disciplines can be really interesting things to consider.
  5. SafeandSound Mastering Engineer

    514 posts
    Since Apr 25, 2009
    It is very important to understand the character of the equipment you are applying to a signal. That can take quite a lot of listening time and practice before you know what to go to for various types of enhancement.
  6. satboy Banned by DOA

    744 posts
    Since Mar 10, 2012
    i think VST is outdated... a new standard is needed which gives feedback about a plugin being able to add THD and/or nonlinearities... with the mass of VSTs available today, varnishing might degrade audio quality instead of refining/accentuating it... just my 2 cents
  7. insulin

    734 posts
    Since Apr 16, 2002
    it's a good read but i'd take it with a grain of salt. we're not making orchestra or country music here. i still think experimentation with dnb is the way forward. just my 2 cents.
  8. TheRoary

    115 posts
    Since Jan 4, 2012
    This makes sense to me. It is a great article and I've kinda looked at it and appreciated it in a similar way since I've been able to hear what is really going on in my mixes after a good number of years making tracks.

    I don't think it matters what type of music you're making, it can still benefit you're tracks. Say you make a nice bass sound, yeah sick! And it's moving and growling all over the place, whack a compressor on it and ram it, job done.
    Instead, say you compressed it slightly to catch peaks, maybe saturated it with some analogue channel strip and then put a Vintage Warmer on the end before it reaches the master and is 'varnished' even more by the mix processing.. to the untrained ear, maybe they can't tell the difference, but to the trained ear it's all, 'Daaayum, how'd you make that bass sound?!'

    It's subtle refinement that comes with experience. It may only add an extra 3% to your mix, but it's still worth honing your skills to achieve it.. non?
  9. dag451 SEMAPHORE

    269 posts
    Since Aug 16, 2010
    Someone with untrained ears may be lost on the subtleties, but they'll definitely be able to tell when something doesn't sound right.
  10. Kizza

    612 posts
    Since Oct 21, 2010
    The other thread I posted about plug-ins which impart the desired 'sonic varnish' so check that out if you want to get your hands on some of them. Had some really good stuff on there.

    This article helped me a shit tone, I was able to go round and ask some industry experts about what they thought regarding this philosophy and what they'd use. So now I have the tools to do it and the advice from real professionals.

    Can't go wrong with that :smile:
    It's surprisingly easy to get in touch with most of these people if you have a good attitude and are respectful. Immeasurably valuable too!