Frustrated with not getting a 'genuine' trance sound

Spatialsound

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Aug 18, 2022
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I've been working on music for about eight years now, in a couple of styles but mostly trying to replicate the classic late 90s-early 2000s trance sound; however I haven't been able to achieve an 'authentic' sound - i.e. something that could be mistaken for a record released at the time - and I just don't know what I'm either doing wrong or not doing at all. It's become frustrating (and even a little depressing) to start work on a project and then realise it's still lacking the 'professional' touch, or to listen to a classic track and have no idea how to achieve that level of production (I heard that Armin made Blue Fear at 19 years old with a bedroom setup - I'm 22 and still not at that level).

I know ideally I would use hardware and synths from the time, but I can't afford anything extensive at the moment (my setup is just a laptop, Reason 11 and various plugins), and while some people have suggested simply starting with an outboard mixer and routing everything through it I don't have any experience working 'out of the box'.

Here's the two most recent (2020) full projects I've finished; I've done a number of short drafts since then but none of them are up to the same standard:

https://soundcloud.com/spatial-sound%2Fflash-point-original-mix https://soundcloud.com/spatial-sound%2Funix-believe-in-minds-spatialsound-remix
Absolutely any advice, whether about plugins, hardware, workflow etc, would be greatly appreciated, I've been working at this for years and just want to be able to make good-sounding music.
 

Jetflag

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Jul 17, 2020
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Some plugins from Adam szabo like the js6k clone or the viper are well worth it for that “classic sound”. I believe Roland had an entire bundle incl the plug-in version of the jp8080 available

ultimately it’s not about specific plugins though
 
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Spatialsound

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Aug 18, 2022
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Some plugins from Adam szabo like the js6k clone or the viper are well worth it for that “classic sound”. I believe Roland had an entire bundle incl the plug-in version of the jp8080 available
I do have the JP6K plugin, and some of the Roland Cloud ones (had to cancel my subscription but was able to keep some through the 'Rewards' thing). I'm sure I have all the plugins and samples I could need, it's something else that's missing.
 

LostLegend

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A lot to unpack here, so apologies if this seems like a wall of text!

Firstly I get the impression that you think getting some classic analogue gear is going to be the magic wand that takes you to the next level. It isn't
Unless you really want a classic synth to play around with, are looking for a VERY specific sound or are going all in for a full oldskool setup like @EnigmaState , the chances are, nobody outside maybe dedicated synth nerds will even notice the difference.

Getting the vibe for tracks of that era takes a fair bit of research. The samples they used, why certain synths sound like they do (how many oscillators, unison voices, filter types etc.) How the limitations affected the decision making process. Synth emulations or even the real thing can help for sure, but they (as @jetflag mentioned) are only part of the puzzle.

Also, and I'm guilty of this, grouping 'late 90's' and 'early 2000's' is difficult as this was a real era of technological boom, the early 2000's are when the modern DAW really began to take shape and VST style plugins really started to become viable. There can be a big difference between the 2.

Obviously listening to lots of music from that era will help, maybe use one for a reference track on your next project. Looking out for sample packs from then, or as said above, sample some bits from classic tracks. And try to keep your productions simple.


Sorry to spam my own material in here ( 😁 ) but this is a 90's style track I made last year (along with a modern version).
I used a lot of old 90's sample packs for the drums and effects (Goldbbaby Tape 909, Uberschall Houseworx, Zero G Datafile 1 etc.)
Most of the synth work was done through the JP6k plugin and Albleton's Analog synth. and I used a track called 'N-Fluence - Sweet Substance' as a reference track. There's a bit of tape his faint in the background as well for the pointless nerd detail value 😂
It can be done with digital only! You just need to pay attention to the details.

To go off on another tangent, if it's the early 2000's you are looking to recreate then as a Reason user you have a lot of what you need already with their legacy modules.
I was a Reason user myself back in the day (before I got sick of waiting for VST support and jumped ship to Ableton), from Reason 1 back in 2001. Only had Subtractor, NN19, Redrum and a few basic effects back then.
There are plenty of classic tracks from that era that were made using only reason. I was heavily involved with the producer forum over on the Tranceaddict forums back in that era and there were a few up and coming artists that used it and used to post in there. Here's a few off the top of my head:


Airbase posted on there a fair bit, and if I recall he used to stack like 5 or 6 Subtractors on top of each other to get his lead sounds as there was no unison detune in Reason back then. This was released in 2010, but the track was made back in 2001/2002 if I remember. This was probably mixed and mastered in a proper set up, but to my knowledge, Jezper at the time was using Reason as his main DAW for the production part.



Just listen to it, it even sounds like Reason! 😁


Both this and 'Out There' were produced in Reason as well. He even stole the kickdrum from another track haha.

Anyway, keep plugging away and keep asking questions/posting tracks. That oldskool style is quite popular on here, so much so that the powers that be set up their own label for oldskool style trance:


So maybe send some demo's when you finally feel like you are going to crack it hehe.
 
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Spatialsound

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Aug 18, 2022
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A lot to unpack here, so apologies if this seems like a wall of text!
Thanks for the reply, I certainly don't mind 'walls of text'; if anything I appreciate the level of advice even more (y)

In regards to reference, I've been listening to trance (and other electronic genres) since before I started making them, so I have plenty of reference material - my music library is about 15k tracks full now! - and I often end up being inspired by a specific track or producer's style for a particular draft/project anyway. As for sample packs, I have a copy of Vengeance Clubsounds 1 (which was recommended by a number of people), as well as some free trance packs from BIAB/MusicRadar, and I have a small but growing folder of kick drums and percussion loops sampled from existing tracks too.

The samples they used, why certain synths sound like they do (how many oscillators, unison voices, filter types etc.) How the limitations affected the decision making process.
You're definitely right about this, I could name some synths off the top of my head but I have very little knowledge on how tracks were actually produced/recorded back then, about the technical side of things in general.

Also, and I'm guilty of this, grouping 'late 90's' and 'early 2000's' is difficult as this was a real era of technological boom, the early 2000's are when the modern DAW really began to take shape and VST style plugins really started to become viable. There can be a big difference between the 2.
Yeah, I realise that's probably too broad a description, though honestly while I mostly tend to hover around 1999-2000 trance I work on a lot of different projects; anything from mid-'00s Anjunabeats to hard trance to even the more progressive stuff.

Thank you once again for your advice, Hardwired is a brilliant tune btw (both mixes!)
 
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Jetflag

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Side note: had a listen to your stuff and it’s actually quite good in terms of “old school sound”. Idd say it’s on point. Then again I consider myself a fairly sloppy producer/listener if that makes sense, so take that as you will 😉
 

Magdelayna

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Id say youre stuff sounds pretty decent,the one thing id change in the first track is the clap/snare...it sounds out of place or the levels arnt right. Try and choose a better sample,ideally from a quality producer sample pack,and play with some slight reverb on the snare/clap.
 

Julian Del Agranda

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Well, with the first one, I though the mixing was just very poor. The 'foundation' of the track is alright. It's not like you don't know how the track should be. Arrangement/song wise, it's all there.

It just doesn't sound balanced.

The second track though. Sounds very good. And it sounds "old" as well.

Anyway, for me the question is: what kind of setup / monitors / room do you produce in. Do you make it with just headphones for example?

Maybe watch video's about mixing/mastering and see if you can improve from that.
 

Spatialsound

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Aug 18, 2022
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Well, with the first one, I though the mixing was just very poor. The 'foundation' of the track is alright. It's not like you don't know how the track should be. Arrangement/song wise, it's all there.

It just doesn't sound balanced.

The second track though. Sounds very good. And it sounds "old" as well.


Maybe watch video's about mixing/mastering and see if you can improve from that.
The mixing is definitely an issue, I agree, but I'm struggling to be able to make things that *could* be mixed, if that makes sense. If you know any good resources on mixing (especially for trance) I'd be happy to check them out (y)

Anyway, for me the question is: what kind of setup / monitors / room do you produce in. Do you make it with just headphones for example?
I just have a regular laptop and earbuds; no speakers or anything like that unfortunately. I do have a pair of beyerdynamic DT 990 Pros but admittedly I haven't used them in a long time.
 

Spatialsound

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As much as I'd like to have a studio setup, I have neither the money nor space for anything more; I'm still a student too so I don't even have a permanent room I'd be able to set up in anyway.
 

Archon

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Well your music will be played like that most of the time. So why not just make it sound good on your earbuds? Full pro studio will definitely improve your mixing skills, but you shouldn't allow your development as a producer to be blocked by not having a modern studio. Just try to do the best with what you have.
 

Jetflag

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at the very least get a pair of (second hand if you must) quality headphones suitable for mixing.

you're not the only one with space time funds problems concerning music production though. My setup also consists of just a laptop and a good pair of headphones. You can get an okísh for demo-mix from it especially if you use a reference track to determine your levels after you're done writing/sequencing.

that said, whenever I put something out as an (official) release that isn't experimental ambient or so, I always send 10 or so stems/bounces to a master/mix engineer, pay the man 30-50 bucks, and let him do the final mixdown, as mixing and especially mastering it yourself on such equipment will most definlty f up your stereo image, phaseshifting etc.
 
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Recharge

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I do everything in headphones, I can recommend the Sennheiser hd 25 as great home dj/producing headphones.

Also I have a similar problem and I think you are getting the wrong sounds. I don't believe in having the right clap, hi hat or any drums. You can easily transform them to suit your song. But choosing the right sounds will make or break your song. I think I am in the same boat choosing too cutesie sounds and I feel like most of my song will never see a label release since they are too cutesie and odd. It don't work for everybody, but just watch some YouTube videos about choosing the right sounds.

I actually lean into that odd sound quite often, because I kind of like it and make music mostly for fun, so not every song has to be a megahit.

On the second one just adding more lead sounds and lairing them with each other with different reverb/echo/delays might be more than enough.

Also sometimes putting some sounds -+ an octave might can make wonders and I noticed when you are listening to the same loop over and over again it doesn't come to mind, but might be good idea to switch things.

I also have a song where I have same two leads in two octaves apart playing together left/right and the leads on that song sound great. Another idea for the leads on the second song.


Btw I forgot to say i like it, it just need a bit more can become a great song.
 
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Hensmon

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Hey @Spatialsound - Your tracks sounds pretty decent in many ways, you should feel encouraged. I agree with the guys above that there are issues with balance and some elements sound off, but there are also many other elements that sound really nice. Love the baseline in the first track. I don't think you are that far off honestly from getting the sounds you want, but understand its thats last 20% that really makes the difference and can be hard to obtain. You'll likely get there though.
 

Spatialsound

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Aug 18, 2022
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Hey @Spatialsound - Your tracks sounds pretty decent in many ways, you should feel encouraged. I agree with the guys above that there are issues with balance and some elements sound off, but there are also many other elements that sound really nice. Love the baseline in the first track. I don't think you are that far off honestly from getting the sounds you want, but understand its thats last 20% that really makes the difference and can be hard to obtain. You'll likely get there though.
Thanks for the kind words, unfortunately the 'first 80%' is also difficult 😓 I haven't finished anything since the second track I linked, and that was over two years ago now - it's a struggle to work on something that doesn't grind to a halt within a few hours for lack of inspiration.
 

Bobby Summa

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These tracks are definitely decent. Really good.

I have a few thoughts but they are just ideas that may or may not work and have not been tested. - other members feel free to chip in if im off mark. ( ive still a lot to learn)

I think if your going for the 99/2000 sound it’l be hard. Its when trance on a commercial level was at its peak more or less. So, so much hardware synth gear came out jam packed with trance presets around that time that ‘non trance’ producers got very tired of synths presets when demoing synths as many were aimed to the commercial trance scene or to provide instant wow! ( and were for years after too)

I think your tracks are very much along the right lines, definitely in terms of melody and arrangement. But it might just be me, but the finish is too clean, too sparkly.
i don’t know if you record at a very high frequency, but try dropping the mixdown freq and bit rate significantly plus same on mastering process. I feel it may give it a rawer thicker but less smooth sound which in my opinion the 90s trance had compared to the ‘ultra’ clean trance sound of todays and the last 10 years. Perhaps enabled by developement in technology. Plus, much trance of the 90s was played on vinyl which for me gives that vintage sound.

Back then many artists used hardware effects, these were probably used more subtly that software fx usually are because they overall were stronger in overall impact and presence. Thus often i think reverbs weren’t as lavishly laid as they are today else they became too over the top. where as software fx sometimes dont sit in the mix or get heard until their levels are higher.
( this is my assumption not a fact)

if im right, try reducing ‘all fx mix levels by 50 % and see if the sounds seem more raw and hearable / thick. Then bring the level back up on idividual sounds bit by bit at the same time as doing it bit by bit on other sounds and see when elements or thickness ( presence) of those sounds are lost or compromised. Then leave at the level just before they are comprimised. Perhaps vary fx position in the fx chain too as this can bring out more of an aspect of a sound that was lacking before due to an effect being to dominant i feel.
You could also try reducing some of the adsr release or decay ( Amp envelope) on certain lead sounds as i noticed one or two sound too long for that 90’s vibe ( just my opinion) - first track i think mostly, and on the sound that is like a pad lead ( its maybe too bright as lacked presence and maybe seems too airy/clean/ thin. Oerhaps alter fx chain position and dont be afraid to break the rules as your ears are a much better guide than an instruction sheet, you never know how plugins and vsts are constructed to bring about their sound output so i have began to think various fx chains work in un expected ways.
I sometimes put eq first in a chain, sometimes at the middle and sometimes the end ( plus il try it anywhere) if it works it works.

its not something ive tried, but to give an individual sound interms of lead or pad, if a modern vst sound is used, im wandering if using distortion or overdrive or tube fx subtly may give an individual sound a more retro or vintage feel. Offcourse there are many parameters with this type of effect but may be worth a twiddle.
I plan to experiment and learn the effect of different fx by adding one to the master channel such as distortion so i see the impact it has, i did this with a supermassive reverb delay by valhalla on an ambient track and it brought it to a new level. Its being released this month. My very first track release.

have fun. You’re gonna get there im sure


-
 
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Oct 7, 2022
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I just have a regular laptop and earbuds; no speakers or anything like that unfortunately. I do have a pair of beyerdynamic DT 990 Pros but admittedly I haven't used them in a long time.
Gear doesnt always make a good mix. Yeah of course its easier if you have monitors etc. but you can also make great mixes with minimal amount of soft and hardware. You have 990s? Use them! Those are great headphones. Also keep your earbuds, you know those things and how stuff sounds on them. Thats very important. Listen to other records and how they sound on the stuff you have. If you can get your mix to sound exactly the same on your earbuds it will most likely sound good everywhere. I mixed most of my stuff on a gaming headset ... yeah a gaming headset. Shit works when you want it to work. You dont need a big ass studio to get good mixes.

For example Laidback Luke produced, mixed and mastered a lot of his stuff on some old-ass DJ Headphones as you can see/hear here:

Jesse Ray Ernster (Mixing Engineer, Grammy Award) mixed Doja Cat's "Woman" on old Yamaha NS10s in a bedroom with minimal acoustic treatment.

Hits were often mixed on "bad" speakers because "bad" is what the consumer have at home. You can mix a hit record on some Logitech USB Speakers if you know those well enough, it doenst matter at all. All what matters is study your stuff. Spend time listening to records from all kinds of genres and learn how your speakers/headphones sound. Here is an interesting article:

Mid-rangy speakers are gold! If you nail the mids you nail everything. Dont spend too much time mixing literally 20HZ low end because no one (except for a small amount of people) will hear anyways.

A also very simple (but effective) technique is making room in your mix. Cut the low end in every channel where no low end is really needed, even if you dont even hear any low end. Sometimes there a still some frequencys you dont acctually need at all. This will make your mix more clear and all other stuff has more room to breath.

Also: If you get your stuff to be published by labels they even offer mixing services and mastering very often, so you dont even have to do it on your own. Its not always like that but often enough.

Hope this helps the one or other!
 

Julian Del Agranda

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Also keep your earbuds, you know those things and how stuff sounds on them. Thats very important. Listen to other records and how they sound on the stuff you have. If you can get your mix to sound exactly the same on your earbuds it will most likely sound good everywhere. I mixed most of my stuff on a gaming headset ... yeah a gaming headset. Shit works when you want it to work. You dont need a big ass studio to get good mixes.
I’m sorry but I find this very bad advise. If you could mix professionally with 30 euro earplugs, why would professional mastering engineers spend 1000+ on a monitor?

I made music on crap monitors before. You think it sounds good but it’s weak, or way too bass heavy. Thin, flat.

If you want to produce, the number one equipment advice for me is: good monitors. Mid-price-range is enough for us. Don’t have to be 1.000 of course.