AUDIO & MORE
We’re really excited to announce our new series; Mix Like A Pro!
-You will be able to mix along with the exact same multi-tracks that will be used in these mixing tutorials.
I have recorded this blues-inspired jamsession at Redbull Studio’s in Amsterdam, and in this first episode we’re going to mix this fairly simple recording.For this first session we are really going to look at the basics of mixing, and we’re going over the first few steps to create a mix for this song.
As this series will progress we will explore different genres of music, get a lot more tracks to mix with, and more things to learn! In this episode we will learn how to do a basic mix with a very limited amount of tracks, using only level, panning, EQ, Dynamics and reverb.
You can download the multitracks in the link below the video. In that ZIP file you can also find the learning objectives and the steps that I go through in the tutorial.
It was really a fun tutorial to make, and it was really challenging to try and do the whole mix in less than an hour. I did speed up a few parts of the tutorial to make it into a decent length, but it was really cool to finally do a full length mixing session for y’all!
Approaching a mix.
Making a basic using level and panning.
Applying EQ and dynamics to balance individual instruments.
Adding reverb to create some depth and space.
I don’t talk about this step too much in the tutorial, but to me it’s a very important step. It’s all about organising your files, folders and even your sessions. I’m going much deeper on the subject in an upcoming tutorial : Mixing Explained II.
After I have imported and created the session I personally like to colour all the tracks when Im going over them. For this I always keep the same colours for certain types of tracks. It serves as a visual reference in my DAW and I can quickly see which tracks that I’m looking at. My drums are always green, bass is always orange, keys are always blue, guitars are always yellow, etc etc…
- It may look geeky to spend two minutes colouring all the tracks, but it allows me to go much faster and work more efficient when I’m mixing songs.
After we have heard the tracks for the first time, you will probably start with levelling and panning to create a better balance between the individual sounds. Depending on the amount of tracks you have, and what type of song you’re mixing, there’s many different ways to approach this.
In this example I am moving all the faders down to start from silence. You can also chose to build your mix around the vocals, or to build it around the drums for example, which we will do in a later mixing session as well.
In this mix I’m going to start with the drums, and we’re going to start by moving up the kick-drum’s fader. After this I’ll add the bass-line, add the overheads and start adding the guitar tracks.
Play around with it till you start to find a nice balance between the individual instruments that sounds good to your ears. Check out the tutorial video around 2:48 here to see how I did it.
After this we’re going to add in the other instruments like the keys, saxophone and the vocals. Again move the levels around till you find a good place for the instruments in the mix.
I have the drums (overheads) pretty loud and upfront in the mix and the guitars a bit more in the back. I could have chosen to have the drums a bit more back, and the guitars more up front but I personally thought this would suit the track. Especially in regards to the vocals, and the fact that I don’t use any automation in this mix plays a big role in that decision as well. (In later mixing sessions we will be doing automation though.)
Once we have a decently levelled mix we can start by creating some width to the mix with the use of panning. In this song there’s a few tracks that can use some panning to make it wider.
I’ve panned the drum overheads around 30 left/right. (Of course you could go wider if you think that suits the song better.) In my mix it’s just panned to create a bit of width and a stereo-feel to the drums, not to make the drum sound super-wide.
The guitar channels I’ve panned around 30. (The two channels are recordings of the same guitar-part but but with two completely different mic’s aimed differently to the amplifier.) I’ve kept the solo guitar centred.
The keys can be panned 100 Left and 100 Right to re-create the original stereo image of the keyboard. If you want to make the keys narrower you could pan the left and right channels a bit more to the centre.
You could chose to pan the saxophone slightly to a side. probably around 10 already gives it a better spread. An idea is to pan the second saxophone channel to the opposite side. (This only plays in the very end of the song..)
Play around with the panning and levels until you feel that you have a good spread and balance. Don't just copy-paste the settings that I have, but try to find the right balance that you feel is right.
At this point we still have a mix that is getting a bit more balanced but it’s still far from being perfect. Certain sounds are a bit too dynamic and fluctuate in level, while other instruments might clash in terms of frequencies, like the guitars and bass, or the guitars and vocals.
So we’re going to use some EQ and compression to balance out these sounds. (If you want to know more about EQ and Dynamics you can watch the tutorials in season 1 and 2 where I am going much deeper into the subject.)
In the mix that I have done in the tutorial, I am using an amp-simulator plugin on the bass guitar to give it a more gritty and amped sound. (The bass was recorded through a D.I.)
If you happen to have an amp-simulator plugin installed you could try the same, or you could chose to use the DI-signal in the mix.
These are just guidelines of what I have quickly done in the video. These frequency regions serve as an indication of what to look for but this should all be applied to your personal taste. If I add 2 dB at 400 Hz but if you believe it sounds better by adding 4 dB at 300Hz in your mix: Go ahead!
- Remove very low end around 60 Hz.
- Add some attack around 3 kHz or up.
- If you like some more low-end, look around 100 Hz. But be careful with the kick together with the bass guitar.
- Remove very low end around 50Hz.
- 300-500 Hz will make it sound fuller, 2 kHz makes it more open.
In my mix I actually removed a few dB around 450Hz to make the drums less ‘dark’.
- Try to remove some of the harsh cymbals around 5 KHz and up.
Be careful not to remove too much from the snare drum if you do so.
- 200 Hz gives more body
- 4KHz gives more ‘pluck’
- Remove the low end to create some space for the bass. (100Hz)
- Remove somewhere between 1K - 1.5K to create some space for vocals.
This guitar sound is more open and defined than guitar 2 because of the mic placement and microphone type. You could chose to get these two to match a bit better in terms of frequencies.
- Remove the low end to create some space for the bass.
- Remove somewhere between 1K - 1.5K to create some space for vocals.
This guitar is a bit more ‘muffled’ as this was recorded with a different mic. You could chose to brighten it up a bit to match the other guitar. You could look around kHz - 3 kHz and 5 KHz and up to make this one a bit brighter if you like.
- Remove the low end -100Hz.
Remove some around 1.5 - 2.5 KHz.
Fuller at 500 Hz - Brighter at 3 KHz.
In my mix I have the solo guitar part more in the back. If this was an instrumental part I would have chosen to have the guitar more up front. But since there is a vocal part over this guitar I chose to remove some frequencies around the vocal-region around 1.5 KHz. This helps to move it to the back a little bit more, and gives some space for the vocals.
I didn’t do much equalisation on the Keys except remove some of the lower content around 60 Hz.
As they are so harmonically rich-sounding I have put them all the way in the back of the mix and scraped off some of the higher frequencies around 2.5 KHz.
Just like the other instruments, the sound of the saxophone in the mix can be shaped a lot with the help of some EQ. It is a very rich sounding instrument with many overtones, so there’s a lot of ways to enhance it’s sounds.
I removed the low end (below 100Hz) and added a little bit of warmth around 400Hz and some clarity around 2 - 3 KHz. Other than that I didn’t do much to it.
Removed all the very low end from +/- 70Hz.
Added a small peaking boost of about 2 dB at 1.5 KHz.
Added a small peak of about 2 dB around 2 KHz.
Added a small high shelving boost around 11 KHz.
You can add a some ‘body’ and weight to the vocal sound by boosting a little bit around 250Hz.
Getting the right vocal sound is something that can be different per mix. These are just some guides of frequencies that I’ve used in my mix. However if you have a different balance of instruments, or if want to have a different vocal sound, you can try out different EQ settings.
The sound of the backing vocals is heavily dependant on the sound of the mix, the sound of the lead vocal and the music style that you’re going for. Sometimes it works perfectly to get some full and thick sounding backing-vocals, while for other mixes a very open and ‘light’ backing vocal-sound works much better.
Remove the low end, up too 100Hz.
Remove some of the lower frequencies around 200Hz.
Remove some of the treble with a high-shelving EQ from around 5KHz.
With the use of dynamics we can shape certain instruments, and prevent others from fluctuating in level too much throughout the song. Also we’re going to add some Punch to the drums.
We are going to add some punch and attack to the drums, but since we are so limited in the amount of drum-tracks we can only change the sound of the snare on the overheads. Changing the sound of the overheads will not only affect the snare, but it will also have an effect on the sound of the cymbals, hi-hat and toms as well, as these are all on the same track.
In my mix I actually did not change the kick drum channel on it’s own with dynamics.
I have added a transient shaper to make the attack on the snare and kick-drum a bit ‘snappier’. (There’s multiple good transient shapers out there and I have a few, like Cubase’s Envelope Shaper, SPL’s Transient Designer and Waves’ Trans-X.)
I have also used a (parallel) compressor on the overheads. In my mix I have used the Fairchild and played with the ‘mix’ setting to find a balance between dry and compressed signal. You could however chose to use a normal compressor on the overheads. *Remember that if you use a fast attack you might remove a lot of the attack of the transient sounds like the kick and the snare.
I have also added a de-esser to the drums to get rid of some of the sharpness of the cymbals. You could also achieve that with a multiband compressor. I tried to just remove some cymbal sharpness without affecting the snare sound too much.
The bass is quite dynamic. It starts with a more sustained sound with a relatively low amplitude, but later on the track it gets louder with more transients. Try to set a compressor to get some gain reduction on the loudest parts, but not so much in the intro section of the song.
The guitars change quite a bit in both sound and amplitude throughout the song. Try to compress the guitars a little bit on the louder section.
In my mix I have compressed the solo guitar quite a bit, and I also have it pretty much in the back of the mix. The compression makes it more as ‘one layer’ in the back.
The saxophone could use just a very little bit of compression to keep it balanced. Think about the lines of 2 dB of gain reduction. I have used a LA-2A type of compressor in the mix because that is a relatively slow compressor and it adds some tonal character to the saxophone as well.
I have compressed the lead vocals quite a bit, to get a more hip-hop type of sound and to bring out a lot from the vocal performance. I have actually used 3 different compressors on the lead vocal, each doing a bit bit of compression but not having too much gain reduction per compressor.
The first compressor is set as a rather fast (1176-style) compressor. This is just grabbing the peaks and has around 3-4 dB of gain reduction.
The second compressor grabs the overall vocal sound and also has a quick attack with a slightly slower release. On this compressor I get about 1.5 dB - 2dB of gain reduction.
The third compressor is a much slower compressor (LA-2A) and this smooths out the overall vocal. Again this compressor only grabs about 2 dB of gain reduction. The nice thing of the La2a type of compressor is that it also adds a bit of tonal character to the signal.
So with all three compressors on the lead vocal combined I get about 8dB of gain reduction in total. Each also have a bit of make up gain, so this gives some more body to the resulting vocal sound.
I have also added a de-esser to remove some of the sharp “S” sounds. It might be wise to have the de-esser quite on top of the signal-chain, before the compressors.
The backing vocals get squashed with compression. I get up to about 12 dB of gain reduction on the backings, using a ratio of 3:1. I like to get these sounding ‘rock solid’ with a lot of compression, as I think this comes out quite well in the mix.
At this point we should have a decent mix, but it’s a bit dry. Let’s add some depth and space with the use of reverb. This could glue the mix together a bit better as well as give our mix some more space to live in. Depending on the mix, the style of music and the amount of instruments, we can sometimes use a few different types of reverb in a mix.
In this mix I’ll just be using two different types of reverb, one reverb for the drums and a different reverb for the guitars, keys and saxophone.
I have made one aux-bus with a room type of reverb and this works pretty well for drums. So I have sent both the overhead channels to this reverb. Make sure the room is not too large and that the reverb tail is not too long. Other types of reverbs that could work well on drums are for example Plate type reverbs.
For the instruments I have set up a separate aux bus with a different type of reverb. This again is a room-type of sound with a pretty short reverb tail, but this one is a little bit of a brighter room.
Backing vocals Reverb.
Okay I have cheated a little bit. I have added a third reverb as an insert on the backing vocals. This is set to a pretty small room and with the wet/dry balance set to 8% it blends in very soft with the vocals but creates a little bit of space.
Besides that Wick has started WickieMedia, he is also author, blogger and video-editor for the site.
Wick is very passionate about audio engineering, music production, graphic design, motion graphics and good cappuchino.
Wick is the author of 'Audio Engineering - Dynamic Processing' and 'Audio Engineering - Spectral Processing'.
You can find both titles in the iBookstore.
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