The UltraMix plug-in for Sibelius is the ideal complement to the mixer

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Although most posts here focus on the notation features of Sibelius and the other music notation software programs, the playback features are just as important for many users. Some users rely on playback to help proof read a score or to get a rough demo, but the fact is that Sibelius, Finale, and Dorico all offer a high degree of sophistication and customization when it comes to audio realization.

Sibelius’s mixer (shortcut: M) has undergone several iterations since the program’s early days. The current version first appeared in Sibelius 7 along with a broad overhaul of the entire user interface. Its array of sliders, knobs, and settings gave the intrepid user the tools to create a finely-tuned mix.

Unlike the other elements of a Sibelius score, though — which can be transferred through exporting and importing house styles — there has never been a good way to transfer your mixer settings between scores. Further, making adjustments to your score’s mix is a tedious process, having to adjust all the virtual sliders and knobs.

A few years ago, composer and pianist Ozie Cargile saw the potential for improving control of the mixer, and he set about designing a tool to help him realize that potential. The result is the UltraMix plug-in. It’s available for purchase for $25.

Ozie said that wrote UltraMix for all of his “fellow composers and music producers that are crazy enough to use Sibelius as a digital audio workstation, spending countless hours with the mixers and faders, trying to get the perfect sound for your symphonic mockup or realization.”

Because the UltraMix plug-in is not offered through the Sibelius plug-in page, once downloading it, users must install it manually. After that’s done, UltraMix will appear alongside all of your other plug-ins.

Ozie has made a helpful 12-minute tutorial video that demonstrates all of UltraMix’s features:

Saving and transferring mixer settings

The most significant feature for those Sibelius users that have indeed spent hours customizing their mixer settings is UltraMix’s ability to transfer those settings to another file. This is done by first going to your source score and clicking Export, which saves the mixer settings as a text file on your computer.

Then, you must close UltraMix, open your destination score, and run UltraMix again. This time, click Import and select the file containing the settings you wish to bring into your score. UltraMix will only adjust those instruments that match those in the text file; it will ignore the others. (UltraMix determines this by the instrument’s SoundID).

Saving your settings as a text file on your computer allows you, for the first time, to treat mixer settings in much the same way you would a house style. Say that you have a playback configuration that uses several different virtual instruments and you’ve painstakingly determined the correct balance for each instrument in the mix. With UltraMix, you can save those settings and bring them into any file you wish, without the need to save the entire Sibelius file as a template and laboriously copy and paste music into it.

This feature alone is impressive, but UltraMix includes a number of other tools to help you control your mix.

Adjusting the mix with UltraMix

UltraMix’s other features apply directly to the score you’re working with.

Adjustment options

The Fader Adjustment Options offer several ways to quickly adjust the mixer settings.

Fit Faders to Volume Range acts as something of a compressor. If you have instruments with wildly disparate volume levels, this option will smooth those levels out while still preserving the relative relationships among the instruments.

Scale Fader(s) By Percentage will adjust all the selected faders by a desired percentage. Anything greater than 100% will increase the volume, while anything less than 100% will decrease the volume. Like with Fit Faders to Volume Range, the relative relationships among the instruments’ volume is preserved.

Scale Fader(s) Relative to Instrument is useful if you often find yourself mixing to a reference instrument; in other words, if want to use the viola as a “master fader” and adjust other instruments accordingly. Imagine locking those instruments to the viola and having them slide up or down in tandem while you only slide the viola fader on your mixer. That’s what this does.

Set Pan will set the pan of all selected instruments to a desired value, from -100 to 100, with 0 being the midpoint. Useful if you have a number of instruments you want to group together or if you just want to be specific about the pan setting.

Invert Mix is somewhat of a novelty; it makes the loud instruments soft and vice versa. But its use could be in a situation where you find yourself alternating between auditioning certain sections prominently in your mix.

Filtering the selection

Any or all instruments, or a subset of them, can be selected from the Select Instrument Faders filter. This means that you can apply settings to certain instruments while leaving others untouched.

Filter Volumes will apply the settings only to those instruments with a volume level that falls within the range specified (you can choose =, >, <, ≥ or ≤).

Invert Filter will literally invert the selection in the filter, applying changes to instruments that are not selected, as opposed to those that are selected.

Include “0” volumes means that, when this option is checked, the settings will apply too an instrument even if its volume is 0. When unchecked, UltraMix will ignore those instruments.

Using UltraMix

What’s nice about UltraMix is that it will remember the mixer settings when you run the plug-in, yet you can preview your changes in the mixer without committing to them. If you don’t like the results, simply click Restore to restore the mix to where it was when you ran the plug-in.

Reset restores the plug-in to its default settings.

Adjust applies the changes along with all of the filters that you may have chosen.

Cancel will close the plug-in and will restore the mixer without any changes applied, while Exit closes the plug-in with your new settings intact.

UltraMix is the missing tool that anyone working with audio in Sibelius at a detailed level will deeply appreciate. For $25 it will pay for itself many times over with the time saved and level of control that you’ll be able to achieve.

Comments

  1. Steve Lebetkin

    Does this product include automation to allow for selection of passages for one or more instruments to increase/decrease volume? Or is this about adjusting a single setting for an entire score without the ability to address the mix on a more micro level?

    1. Philip Rothman

      The latter.

      1. Steve Lebetkin

        That’s really too bad.

        I wonder if the developer can bring in and/or provide this feature for ranges.

        1. Philip Rothman

          It’s a good suggestion, for sure.

  2. Gregory Winters

    Steve: Your question is really the heart of the matter, and one that continues to elude the developers and most users of notation software. Because of the highly erratic quality of the sounds samples libraries (whose manufacturers have the audacity to charge through the wazoo for the samples), composers of digital music who wish to hear how their work will actually sound have to rely heavily on tricks and tools like this UltraMix for the simplest tasks.

    The fact is that there are fundamental aspects of instrumental sound that the samples libraries largely ignore: pitch, duration, timbre, dynamics, and articulation. These musical elements are represented by symbols in a system we call “notation,” and they are time-honored and centuries old. Yet, developers of the software and the sounds libraries pretend that these do not exist, or – at best – aren’t important.

    I’ve worked with drum sounds whose cymbals don’t recognize accents. I’ve worked with strings that don’t play staccato. I’ve worked with synth sounds where assigning dynamics markings is useless. I’ve worked with brass sounds that blat or include awful vibrato. These are not from fly-by-nighters, but marketed by Avid and Native Instruments, among others.

    The upshot is this: for composers, we need to be able to manage our digital ‘musicians’ to the precise degree that we could manage live musicians. If we want something softer, smoother, brighter, faster…whatever, if there’s a notation for it in Sibelius, then the digital musicians should play what we write! What is so difficult about this concept?

    This shameful lack of quality is the reason whenever I’ve posted this issue to blogs, I get the same answer: “Use a DAW and live musicians if you want real quality.”

  3. Philip Rothman

    I had a further conversation with Ozie (the developer) about this. He said, “Automation in Sibelius would be awesome. Originally, I tried to the design the UltraMix plugin so that you could hear the changes and adjust them during playback. Unfortunately, Sibelius ManuScript does not allow plug-ins to be executed during playback, which is the only reason I haven’t gone down this path… I’d love to find a work-around for this. I’d program it in a heartbeat.”

  4. Kenneth Gaw

    There is a plugin that ships with Sibelius in the Play tab called Add Continuous Control Changes. It converts the vertical and horizontal position of lines into midi control messages in a similar manner to an automation envelope on a DAW. It’s certainly worth a look,

    1. Steve Lebetkin

      this is a demo of it that sort of does this

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=QzsX6U2JHaw

  5. Chris Best

    What a welcome plug-in! To me it seems a tad ironic: seeing this layout, with its capacity to enter data for pan, volume etc numerically rather than having to fight with virtual knobs and sliders, i’m reminded of the mixer layout in the very first incarnation of Sibelius for Acorn. So, Avid perhaps take note: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

  6. Paul Cabri

    If you make tonal adjustments to a specific instrument (treble, bass etc.) will it keep those as well when you save?

  7. Michael Philcox

    There is a reference to the current Sibelius mixer first appearing in Sibelius 7. This makes me wonder – does this plugin work with Sibelius 6?

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