Getting a Good Mix in Finale

Finale’s audio output has the potential to generate great audio and wonderful-sounding scores for consumers and demos. For the majority of users, the default settings are adequate. Midi/Audio>Play Finale Through Audio Units should be selected in order to activate Garritan Instruments for Finale (or Garritan’s premium libraries. For more information on setup for these libraries, see this article on the Scoring Notes blog: “Getting Started in Finale with Garritan’s Premium Libraries”).  For those working on larger scores in pursuit of the best possible quality, however, the defaults don’t work well. Let’s take a look at how to address common problems you may encounter, and create the best possible mix in Finale.

Mix issues with Finale default settings

Some instruments are out of balance, even with the same dynamic marking in score

When you find yourself adding unusual dynamic markings (“pppp” when everybody else is “mf”) in an attempt to balance the instruments in a score, it’s time to revisit your “starting” balance. Some default instruments are way too quiet – drum kits in particular – and some are too loud, particularly some plucked strings (such as Ukelele and Mandolin), and solo (vs “section”) woodwind player samples.

Solve this by moving Instruments to a new bank, with “too loud” instruments assigned to a new bank, and “too quiet” instruments to another, then adjust the bank’s volume using Midi/Audio>Audio Units Banks and Effects> Bank Volume slider.

Bank Volume Settings - Finale
Bank Volume Settings – Finale

It’s better to leave some acoustic “headroom” for your initial levels  – make everything a bit quieter than you like, leaving room for crescendi and ffff’s.

(headroom is the space between your track’s maximum level and the maximum possible, or “0db’)

► I’ve found that the internal mix in Finale drum kits tend to be heavy on the bass drum and light on the cymbals. It’s possible to change the balance within the drum kit in Midi/Audio>Audio Units Banks and Effects>Bank>Edit Aria Player>Select Drum Slot>Instrument Controls

Fix your Drum Mix in Finale
Fix your Drum Mix in Finale

Set the Playback Buffer to the maximum value

The default playback buffer in Audio settings may not be high enough. Begin by changing the playback buffer in Midi/Audio>Audio Units Banks and Effects>Device Setup>Audio Setup>

Audio Buffer options - Finale
Audio Buffer options – Finale

“Internal clipping” (cumulative audio too loud) causes dropouts in playback.

When your mix runs out of headroom, it hits the maximum, causing “clipping,” meaning the “overs” cause distortion or overload.

Having more instruments in your score creates a higher cumulative audio level. When it gets over a certain point, Finale’s audio drops out. When these occur, it’s necessary to reduce audio levels within the Finale application before they reach the master output.

Instrument levels can be set in 5 different places in Finale:

A) Dynamic Marks in the score

Score Markings in Finale
Score Markings in Finale

Define these as you’d like the (potential) players to see them, as interpretive direction for human beings. Although they can be used for mix purposes, make sure you set your basic mix levels first.. It’s good to make liberal use of dynamics in the score, as well as other markings, which are translated by Finale’s Human Playback into control parameters. Slurs, accents and other articulations, and hairpins all convert to Continuous Controller data, affecting playback sound characteristics. New (or reiterated) dynamic marks are essential to reset levels after events such as hairpins (crescendo and decrescendo).

B) Midi/Audio>Audio Units Banks and Effects> Bank and Master volume sliders

As suggested above, Bank and Master levels work on groups of instruments or the mix as a whole,  helping to set your basic mix level. Reducing these levels might work as a quick way to eliminate clipping.

Although it’s possible to add plugins to Banks and the Master output in this dialog, offering quick & dirty mastering, I’ve found inserting plugins tends to increase playback errors when exporting audio. With all the headroom you’ll have in your file to get clean audio, mastering with another app will produce the best results. The free audio app Audacity has plugin processing capability, as do many other apps such as the digital audio workstations Logic, Pro Tools, and Cubase Adobe Audition, DSP Quattro, and others. More often than not, all your file will need is normalization.

Finale has control over reverb, and each bank has master reverb controls accessible via the Aria Player. Both of these options are more reliable than third-party plugins for these effects.

Reverb Settings in the Aria Player
Reverb Settings in the Aria Player

Note: although there’s a master reverb showing in Window>Mixer, it doesn’t work with VST playback, including Garritan instruments. Garritan Ambience is added via Midi/Audio>Audio Units Banks and Effects>Edit Bank>Effects, at the Bank level. Adding effects otherwise is likely to cause playback and audio export issues, unless you have a lot of RAM and a really fast processor.

For further control of sound in a mix, it’s possible to export your midi to your DAW, load up the Aria Player, assign the tracks, bounce the audio into new tracks in your DAW, then start mixing (see this article on the Finale Blog for more info).

Although you can get high-quality, professional results within Finale, the DAW option may work better for you if you’re using a lot of third party libraries, scoring to film, and other more demanding applications. It’s possible to run Finale as a stereo VST instrument from within your DAW, and host other players, samplers, and effects there.

C) Score Manager

Use the Score Manager to make numerical, accurate adjustments to the instruments in your score quickly. While Studio View and the Mixer offer faders for interactive adjustment of relative levels, if you’ve got a big score it’s a good idea to reduce the volume of all instruments during setup.

In order to be able to make these adjustments in the Score Manager, be sure Score Manager>Customize View>Mix is checked to display the column holding the values.

Customize View in the Finale Score Manager
Customize View in the Finale Score Manager

Finale’s default sets all levels to 101. For an orchestral score, I set them all to 60 to ensure adequate headroom. It’s possible to navigate this dialog with the keyboard (with the arrow/selection tool active in the Tool palette).

Score Manager Instrument Levels, Numeric
Score Manager Instrument Levels, Numeric

Running a  macro  script in an app such as Keyboard Maestro makes this task much faster and easier. This screenshot shows steps for an example script to quickly set volume levels. The script types the numeric value, confirms the entry, then navigates down to the next instrument  – repeat the trigger to change all default volume levels down the score quickly.

Keyboard Maestro macro to set volume levels in Finale
Keyboard Maestro macro to set volume levels in Finale Score Manager

D) Studio View faders

Found in View>Studio View, these mimic a DAW on an elementary level. Studio view offers control of imported audio files and the means to create a tempo map for your track. The moves in the faders are not saved – only the last used setting – and they’re very difficult to use to reset all levels, as in C) above. There is no numeric or arrow key editing.

E) Mix Window faders

Found in Window>Mixer, these have the same important drawbacks as D).

Strings sound “blocky” or disjointed

Each instrument has adjustable parameters found in the Aria Player. Default string sounds can benefit from increasing the Portamento setting, while having phrase marks (“slurs”) in the score helps smooth out playback in the score. If the score is finished in a DAW, audio tracks can be bounced into the session, then duplicated, with entrances and cutoffs overlapped to further approximate a live orchestra.

In conclusion…

Even if the mix is going to be finished in a DAW, getting a good mix in Finale will save a lot of time after import. When bouncing out tracks from Finale’s midi within a DAW, playing back through instances of the Aria Player, your mix will already be in reasonable shape, ready for fine-tuning and enhancement with overlaps and effects.

Jon Burr,
Jon Burr

Author Jon Burr is the proprietor of Arranger for Hire, a veteran arranger, composer and bassist, and a contributor to Scoring Notes, the Finale Blog and OF NOTE.

4 Replies to “Getting a Good Mix in Finale”

  1. Wonderful ingormatipn. Thank you.

    I am using EW and EWQL libraries. Until the recent EW PLAY update EW Symphonic Choirs worked very well, including WordBuilder. Now everything written for choir is played back as if the sustain pedal of a piano was being held throughout the piece. The resulting cacophany is terrible. Do you have any suggestions?

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