How would one efficiently adjust relative levels between tracks/instruments?


I have a multi-track recording of a live performance of about 14 amateur musicians performing about a dozen songs; they unknowingly changed their mic distance a lot; between songs, but sometimes also during the same song – considerably changing their signal levels. Also some songs are louder, others softer in style; some songs even have softer and louder parts within the song.

Now I am supposed to create a mixdown of the live performance: firstly make it have a good musical balance (all parts/voices present and understandable), and secondly to reduce the dynamic range of the performance somewhat, to suit playing back on consumer devices in not ideal (somewhat noisy) environments (offices, car, not terribly loud public transport, etc.).

So I would have to “musically balance” the recorded tracks (each singer and instrument, to each other) a lot.

I would have to go through each song (appx. 10), and for each channel (appx. 14) I would have to automate levels (140 adjustments); when the performer changes their distance to the mic, I would have to adjust again (say 3 times per song – 420 adjustments); when the song changes dynamics, I would have to adjust again (say 1.5 times per song – 630 adjustments).

Then once I have musically balanced each individual song, then I would have to balance the whole performance, and compress its dynamics… to make sure softer (parts of) songs are somewhat softer, and louder songs are somewhat louder… but not as much as they would be in an acoustical performance. During this all, I should also preserve the natural live “feel” of the performance by avoiding sudden changes.

As far as I know, I can automate the channel faders for this. However that is an absolute value, and I worry if I start doing that, there is nothing normalizing my adjustments, and I will end up with wildly varying fader values for the various tracks, or not have enough fader range (as the maximum is a +6 dB adjustment).

Is there a way to do relative level changes? To, say, look at two tracks and adjust the relative level between them? And then look at more and more tracks and keep adjusting their relative levels? Ideally somehow keeping the level of the entire ensemble roughly the same in the process? So that I can then do the final adjustment of the entire ensemble (e.g. the “master” fader, if you wish).

Kinda like a parametric CAD system where you define constraints/relations of your design, and then you let the system produce a design by mechanically solving for those constraints?

Is there anything like this?

I hope to avoid having to create an Excel sheet (or a matrix in some other system), find the ideal balance between each track manually in Ardour, then manually record that adjustment into the sheet, and then finally optimize numerically. This sounds mathematically straightforward – but terribly involved and tedious in manual execution.

Do you have any suggestions as to how to approach this?

Thank you in advance.

Assign the tracks to a VCA, then automate the VCA. This way you can adjust the level of the tracks independently. You can also nest VCAs.


Oh…! Right! I did not think of that! Thank you, I’ll look at that!

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