Super Rad Member
Join Date: Dec 2005
This is my little mix method:
1.) First thing listen to your recorded material and make some decisions. What needs to be up front? What needs to be in the background? What are the important parts of the mix? Have you recorded everything you need in a clear, high quality manner?
IF YOUR RECORDED TRACKS AREN'T UP TO SNUFF GO BACK AND REDO THEM!
Nothing slows a mix down faster than tracks that have a lot of issues. If it's noisy, pops, bad performance or whatever you owe it to yourself to fix it before you mix it.
Unless you are getting paid by the hour you don't want to play the "fix it in the mix" game. Trust me, I've polished as many turds as a toilet at an overeaters anonymous seminar, and it is never fun. You will kick yourself and end up re-tracking it anyways, so why wait?
2.) Set levels manually for a rough mix in **MONO** (don't stereo pan yet). Don't touch any eq or compression at this point. KEEP IN MIND THAT YOU SHOULD MIX AROUND YOUR *VOCAL* LINE OR MELODY (if an instrumental song). At all times remember that songs are to sell a vocal performance and everything should be subordinate to it.
KEEP IN MIND MIXING IS EASIER IF YOU START WITH THE "CORE" ELEMENTS OF A SONG AND NAIL THOSE FIRST.
Thus, start with the main percussion (which may be all of it), the bassline, the main melodic instruments, vocals, background vocals, primary guitars--anything that is the strong parst of the song. Things like background noises, samples, special effects, random noises and the like should be *MUTED* and put on the backburner until after you complete this entire process.
The reasoning is that if your core material sounds great, you can fit the 'support' stuff *around* it and the song will still sound good. After all, it is bassackwards to have the greatest sounding pad that just rules if the vocals and drums are totally buried by it.
Thus--MIX FROM MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS TO LEAST. LESS IMPORTANT STUFF MUST WORK AROUND MORE IMPORTANT STUFF. THE VOCALS ARE ALWAYS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT.
3.) Once you've gotten a rough mix going on, listen to it again and note any deficiencies--is the low end tight? Is it muddy? Is something that is important not popping thru? Is something popping thru too much? Does a part go from too loud to too soft? How's the high end balance and clarity? Does the midrange sound cluttered?
4.) Now that you've mentally assembled your laundry list of mix complaints, it's time to do something about it.
5.) First clean up your low end. Run an EQ on all the tracks with nothing but a HIGH PASS FILTER on it. Stuff that should be part of your low end like kick drums, bass and so on get a HP filter around 35 or 40hz; stuff that shouldn't be cluttering your low end much like strings, sweepy pads should get a HP cutoff around 70 to 200hz. Vocals can be cut off around 150hz pretty safely. Guitar gets cut off around 70hz in general. Remember: you don't want excess garbage cluttering your low end--this is one of the main sources of audio mud.
IN GENERAL THE MORE BACKGROUND A TRACK IS THE MORE YOU SHOULD REMOVE ITS LOW END!
I've had pads start rolling off at 400hz before because all I really wanted was a little midrange color and some upper harmonics (so I boosted them around 11khz or so later on). Heck, on high hats I typically roll off starting at 500hz for that crisp, clean and transparent high hat sound.
6.) Now that things are looking clean on your low end re-examine your VOLUME issues, which means listening and start grabbing for the compressor.
7.) Stuff that still seems to pop in and out of the mix need compression--target these and compress them so that their volume stays put. (Read my compression tutorial for additional details.)
IN GENERAL I COMPRESS **EVERYTHING** IN MY MIXES AT LEAST A LITTLE BIT.
I am a big believer in fairly low compression ratios though. 2:1 on a lot of things. I always lightly compress analog synths because they are very erratic; if it's an analog synth doing a bassline I will squish it pretty good. In general VA, softsynths and digital synths need **LESS** compression than analogs, but let your ears and mix decide.
8.) Stuff that should be prominent rhythmically like kick and snare definately get some compression as well. Make them slam hard as hell.
9.) Get your low end instruments thumping be it bass guitar, synth or whatever. Make that low end steady, yet punchy. Try not to have more than 3 "low end" elements if you can.
10.) Now that you've gotten levels to be pretty consistent re-listen to the material critically and ask yourself--what needs more seperation, and what needs more integration?
11.) Now it's time to EQ. A lot of mixes sound tinny and thin because of overuse of EQ. If you've gotten your volume levels sounding great manually, and then used compression to make it even more tight, there shouldn't be a whole lot of EQ that you need to do.
12.) First thing--listen to the mix and try to identify weak sounding areas that sound BAD. Is there a little fizz to the guitars? Kick drum a little muffly sounding? High hats sound clangy? Prepare another mental list....
13.) Now use *subtractive EQ'ing* to locate and eliminate these discrepancies. Use the narrowest and smallest cuts you can get away with to bury the offending freq's in the *mix* (not solo'd by itself--always, always look at things in the context of the mix). When you have eliminated these frequencies (and there will probably be a few, perhaps none if you're lucky, sometimes on poorly recorded stuff there will be some in almost everything) we can move on.
14.) Now that the shit frequencies have been zapped listen to the song again and listen to see if the seperation/integration issues have been taken care of. Sometimes you can get lucky and a few problems will work themselves out; if not, the overall quality should have gone up a few notches.
15.) Now it's time to EQ for *SEPERATION*. Listen to the mix and figure out what elements are fighting for space in the low freqs, low-mids, midrange and high frequencies. Choose the one that you want to be more dominant in that frequency band--now go back and slightly cut that track in that band, while (sometimes) applying a slight boost (we're talking 1-2db's) to the dominant track. Keep doing this until you've gotten them all. Re-listen to the track.
16.) Now you want to integrate some of the elements so they work together more. An example is bass and kick drum. But how do you integrate AND seperate these sounds? Easy--give them boosts that are close on the lower end of the spectrum on or near the same frequency (for example: kick drum at 80hz with a boost, bass synth at 100hz with a boost); next move up into the midrange and boost one element someplace and the other one someplace else (such as boosting kick at 4khz and bass synth at 2khz). Play around with these techniques until you have things really cooking.
17.) Now listen to the WHOLE mix. Focus on the different frequency bands, paying special attention to the high end. Does the bass sound tight and clear--with the bass and kick working together yet with distinction? Does the voice mix well in the midrange with the other instruments? Is the high end crisp and clear, but not domineering and tinny? Can you hear the "air" and upper harmonics of the instruments in the over 10khz range?
18.) Now use EQ positively to *add* any of these missing characteristics... such as boosting some cymbals at 12khz, or a string synth at 9khz or wherever there is a bit of a pocket that needs filling, or place for something to shine a bit more without queering the mix.
BE CAREFUL WITH SUB 1khz BOOSTING. Too much boosting in this area can mess you up... too much cutting will give you a thin sound. This is a difficult area to master. When in doubt, leave it alone for the most part.
19.) Now, at long last, STEREO PAN your tracks. Try not to weight any one side more than the other. Keep low frequency or primary instruments centered, or close to center. Bass and kick should always be centered... and snare as well. Give a nice panorama of sound but don't get carried away. Panning over 50% is often too much. Panning less than 30% is what I do most of the time except in specific circumstances like mic'd drum overheads (due to stereo bleeding) which I'll put at 60-75% or so.
20.) Correct any deficiencies that may have arisen from the stereo panning. 80% of the time if you've done the steps pretty good you won't have any correcting to do. The song will suddenly have "mixed" itself when you stereo pan everything.
21.) Now go back and fit the less important elements into the mix. DON'T TOUCH THE CORE ELEMENTS--make the less important ones fit around them with compression and eq.
22.) When you're done, put the mix down for a day or two and go back and listen. Correct anything you don't dig. Compare it to CD's you like and see if it measures up. Make sure it's not too bright of a mix, make sure there is good low end, make sure it doesn't sound muddy, make sure the midrange is well defined, punchy and clear.
Most of all--have fun. There is no right or wrong way to mix YOUR songs.