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Mixing Tips from me
Mixing Basics:

By Jude May





I’ve often wanted to put my thoughts and experiences down and after requests for some tutorials I thought I’d share some tips.



There are many different ways to mix, some right some wrong. Some people think that all you need to do is push the faders up to unity then go for a beer. Others spend days or weeks blindly twiddling knobs wondering why they are never getting anywhere.



Top engineers have their own way of setting up a console and effects when starting a mix session. Most have their favorite compressors, gates and effects units and will patch them in after the first run thru the mix. Doing this now allows you to concentrate on mixing later on. I am not suggesting that I’m one of the best, but I have my way of preparing for a mix session that I’ll share with you.



Getting ready



I mainly use a digital console in my studio. This mixer has dynamics and effects built in so that saves a bit of patch bay work! I will however still use optical compressors and analog parametric’s on my vocal channel. So once again these get patched in now. Please note, bypass all dynamics and EQ. you’ll see why soon.



The next step and by far the most important is setting your input gains to a useable level. Each person has their own way of doing this; this is mine, and not necessarily the best. It works for me and helps speed up my work flow. I will push up the fader to +10dB and adjust the input gain so it shows -6dBfs on the master outputs. This should only take you a few seconds per channel. After doing this on each channel, pull its fader down to off. Doing this along your console should only take a minute or so. Please note, this can be done in software as well. For example in Cubase SX2 there is a gain pot above the fader that can be used by “shift-left clicking”.



By doing this you will end up with most of your faders at or close to unity, which comes in very handy when automating later on.





So EQ comes next, right?



Wrong.



Panning comes next and I’ll explain why. Say you have 2 mono lead lines that at some stages play at the same time. I used to loop a section where they were both playing and EQ them to provide separation. I would then pan them only to find that they sound weak and lifeless. I have since learned that by panning first you need to do a lot less (if any) EQ to provide separation. As obvious as it sounds there are still people over EQing things.



What to pan, and what not to.



Things not to pan include kick drum, bass lines and any sub bass effects should stay panned central. Same goes for the lead vocal. There are many reasons for this, such as…



You get extra level when 2 speakers share the load



These are the main parts of the track, you want to have them heard wherever a punter is standing.



Bass elements of a track will usually be heard in mono, especially in club systems. Therefore it is pointless to spend time panning them



Also remember when panning that things placed dead center like kick drums and lead vocals will become louder when a track is heard in mono. Bear this in mind when you are placing sounds between extreme pans. And always check your mix by hitting the “mono” button on your console.



Try bringing up a bunch of instruments and samples that you don’t want to sit dead center of a mix. Spend time playing with your pan. Remember, what sounds good is right! Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t pan a high bongo to the left. If it sounds good, it’s right!





Dynamics



So here comes possibly the most destructive thing you can do. It is also the most abused of effects. People abuse dynamics without even realizing it. For example, I have received numerous hard drives with client multi-track projects for mixing in my studio. I usually find that all drum tracks have a dynamic range of 1-3dB. A joke really considering they were recorded at 24bit.



The first thing you must realize about dynamics is that ratios are not added to at each stage, but they multiply. Let me explain. Say you record your vocals with a 4:1 ratio, then use a 6:1 in the mix the ratio would be…. 10:1? Nope 24:1 and that’s before mix buss compression and mastering. You could end up with a 70:1 or more ratio on your vocal sound. With this in mind, it’s not really a surprise that I have so many issues getting client’s vocals to sit well in a mix and sound good.



I plan on writing a full tutorial on the use of dynamics, so until then here are a few tips to get you by. Firstly, where does a compressor come in the signal chain?



Compressors are used as a pre-fade insert effect while mixing, however while recording important parts like vocals, compressors should be used as a post fade insert. This takes more wiring as you need to insert it on the record buss, and then monitor the “from tape” sound. Doing it this way allows you to do something that no compressor will EVER be able to do. You can pre-empt the loud sections. Pulling down the fader by a few dB will tame the vocalist’s loud sections without the compressor killing all feeling and squashing the life out of the sound. Setting up the compressor as a pre-fade insert (or even worse, using the compressor in an outboard preamp) will leave you with a lifeless vocal. “You can cross your fingers and look away, but it wont help” (taken from “mixing with your mind” by Mike Stavrou)



Unlike many magazine writers I’m not going to sit here and tell you ratios, thresholds, attack & release times. Instead I’m going to tell you to use your ears. Yep, you have to do the work.



Earlier, when patching for a mix session I said to patch and bypass your compressors. Now is when we bring them to life. I always start with the kick drum channels, as these are the base of dance music. I will adjust the compressor so that it shows about 20dB of reduction with very quick attack and release times. I’ll then tweak the attack time so the transient makes it thru. Just enough to give the impression of a large sound, I’ll then tweak the release to give the impression of size I’m after. After that I’ll play with the ratio and threshold to balance the need for compression and the final sound. Then comes make up gain, to bring the compressed sound back up to the original level.
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Equalization






It is only after I have controlled the dynamics of tracks that I will reach for the EQ if needed. What most people don’t realize about EQ is that it causes phase shifts in the audio. This often causes parts of your track to disappear when heard with the rest of your audio parts. The only 2 ways you can avoid this is to buy the waves “phase linear” EQ or (the much cheaper option) use EQ very sparingly






This said, you will often find a need to add a bit of “air” to a vocal or other instrument. For boosting frequencies I suggest using wide Q’s (bandwidth). By doing this you achieve the result you are after without getting the “Obviously EQ’d” sound. For cutting frequencies I will use a very tight Q. this, once again helps to make the use of EQ not as noticeable to the ear.






Another tip I’ll let you in on is this. Say you want to emphasize a guitar part at 3Khz, try using a tight Q filter around 2.8Khz and cut by a few dB. I’m not entirely sure how this works, but I’m sure you will find the results quite pleasing.






For those of you that record a lot of your instruments I’d suggest you spend more time playing with mic placement and choice. I have played FOH engineer on a few shows where I haven’t needed to switch in one channel EQ (excluding voacals). I was stunned at the amount of effort the FOH rigger went to in picking mics. This is where the money is ladies and gentlemen. Pick the right mics and you will hardly need to touch you EQ’s. A bonus if you (like me) only have a few nice outboard filters.









Reverb






For electronic music these two effects are almost as important as filters. For example, where would trance be without reverb, or progressive house without delays.






When talking about reverb one name instantly springs (no pun intended) to mind, Lexicon. The reason for this is that lexicon has arguably the smoothest, richest reverbs in the world. And it’s for this reason the 480l sells for around $20,000 aud. Fortunately for us mere mortals, great sounding reverbs are available to us as VST, AU, HTDM and TDM plug-in’s for much less than this price. Some great reverbs I can suggest are Waves ™ Renaissance Verb and True Verb, SIR ™ Sampling Impulse Reverb, and PSP’s Vintage Verb. All these come at good asking prices and can deliver great results. However many engineer will tell you that “it’s not what you have, it’s how you use it” this is defiantly true of effects. An amateur can make a lexicon sound bad, a pro can make Cubase SX’s “Reverb A” sound good. Make sure you learn to use what you have well before shelling out for more expensive toys.






Reverb is often difficult to balance in a mix as it has the tendency to make vocals or instruments washy or push them into the background. A way I have to help avoid this is to use the density control. By making a reverb sound “rough” when heard in isolation will make it sound much more audible without burying a sound. Here is why. Have you ever heard an SPX990 in the studio? The reverbs are as rough as guts. However when used in a live sound situation they are quite smooth. The reason for this is that every room, club or stadium creates its own reverb. So if we go making ours TOO smooth in the mix process, they will drag everything they are applied to towards the back of a mix when heard in a large room full of people. Not a good thing, unless of course you sing as badly as I do!






So now to the mixing…






Now it comes to the actual mixing part. I always start with the kick drum and bass synth / guitar. The reason is this; they form the basis of the rhythm. Once I have a good inter-play going between these two I add the snare and hats and get them grooving along. I must remind all those people new to mixing not to sweep your EQ’s, you’ll just ruin your ears sensitivity to the frequency your trying to find.






Even though the lead vocal is always the last channel on my console, I add this to the mix now. My reasons for this are simple. I am lucky to work with some of Canberra’s best vocalists and I want them heard. In a lot of our music the vocal carries all the soul and I want to deliver this message. Your tracks may be different so once again your ears must be the judge.






After I have these main parts in I start at the left end of the desk adding all other instruments and spot samples. Once I’m happy with all the levels and EQ’s I’ll skip back to the top of the track and arm the automation. I then take a few hours looping the track perfecting all my automation levels. It may seen tedious to some of you but to me it is meditation.






After all my fader moves are made I will once again skip back to the top and start automating effects levels. Just the usual stuff, catching the last word of a verse with a delay. To me this is the icing on the cake.






From here I stick a blank CD in the burner, hit record and let the automation do the work!









This is a very basic set of tips. I am sorry if some of you reading this feel insulted by me writing to this level. There are plenty of good engineers here, but like me, we all need to go back to the basics every now and then. Let me first of all say thank you for taking the time to read this. Some engineer’s (myself included) often fall into the trap of using the same compressors, gates, limiters, reverbs on any given instruments. Most of us need to step aside from the process and remember that in the end






“It’s the sound that counts”



BTW, feel free to ask questions of anything ive written here. im more than happy to explain.



Jude
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Great Post Jude!!


Will read it all soon but skimming thru its a great reference.

Cheers

Tom Mac
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Quote:

Originally Posted by Jude May

Say you want to emphasize a guitar part at 3Khz, try using a tight Q filter around 2.8Khz and cut by a few dB. I’m not entirely sure how this works,

Most filters used will have a gain overshoot in the curve (especially at high Q values), also removing the close frequencies significantly reduces the "noise" around that frequency and sharpens it up. They use the same psycoacoustics in atrac compression, removing all the close frequencies and substituting their energy for the dominant fundamental/harmonic.

So infact this method is working twofold.


And you should submit this as an article, would be much more suited than as a forum post.

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how do i that?
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Sign up as a contributor (I keep meaning to get around to that). Also, perhaps send a PM to I_have_ADD (Tim). He's plenty busy and might take a while on the reply, but he'll point you in the right direction.

Noice work by the way, I'd like to see it as an article too (start giving old Duncan Fry a run for his money :p )

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fantastic work Jude thanks mate.
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hey it made sense to me and I don't know anything about anything. nice one
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Nice work Jude.

Being a big fan of 'mixing with your mind', I found your approach to be extremely palatable.

Hot dang, we have to beer sometime.
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thanks jude,
got a lot of homework to do.....
will be really useful
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glad everyone likes, i gotta admit i was a bit scared i was going to get ripped to pieces! submitter as an artical so i'll wait to see how it goes. would anyone like me to do use some on recording vocals and live drums?
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VOCALS.

and if you could highlight hardware options I'd appreciate it.
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starting now
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just do it Jude. Trust your abilities, dont worry about the chin-strokers they dont matter none.
There is always people out there who will get something from someone who IS doing it. The voice of experience always has a place.
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so what do you guys want to know about vocals? and does anyone know where i can find webspace to put audio clips up?
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Top work jude, some really handy info in there... I just wish you'd written it 6 months ago, you could have saved me a lot of trial and error in nutting some of these things out

Quote:

Originally Posted by gotamangina View Post

I hate it when you're right and I'm not.

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Jude check out sitesled.com.

They offer 100MB for free.
I have some space there if you dont wanna open up some space for yourself.
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i've got some room over on planet trackreviews.

and if any chinstrokers give you shit jude i'll ban em
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Well Jude - I'm going to record some vocals for the first time soon. So I'd appreciate a summary of things I can go and research further on.

Things include:

* Environment
* Mic -> hardware (pre amp/compressor) -> pc setup
* Setting up said hardware (traps for n00bs)
* How not to abuse said setup - or things one should look for (levels, ratios etc..)

You could mention 'the flame' for mic technique, but I'd summarise that by saying buy Stav's book.

Of course there are a few threads on this topic, but I'd like to hear your point of view. No doubt others will voice their opinions.

Personally, I really appreciate this kind of effort - cheers.

beer, beer, beer.
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well i'll start a new thread tommorow and post it in there. hey mods, how bout a sticky for recording/mixing techniques?
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Sticky. Nice work Jude.
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this cool ?
hey jude may, i hope its cool if i could please grab some of these tips n put em on my music forum in our producers section, some tips for starting producers. Iv supplyed ur name and link to this forum, so all cred to u man.
peac. . . .
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i will happily provide advice for the forums, just PM me a link
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Nice to see your first tutorial in "proper" ITM print, Jude! (For those who haven't noticed, check the Life section).
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hey there..this is a gr8 piec of writing and information.

have used some of the techniques described and its improved the sound quality of my track a thousandfold..

thankx for this
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New promo mix coming soon!
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no wockers, buy me a beer some time
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read also this months audio technology. very useful advice from stav once again
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Lemme give in a VERY quick word of advice on mixing for a fat sound with DRUMS & BASS.(not Drum'n'Bass)

I like my productions fat, always pumping out! So if you like fat, read on.

1. KICK. For a fat pumping sound start with your kick! If your samples are shit, then your sound is shit, find a fat high quality kick sample(for dance or hip hop or whatever).

2. SNARE. Make a test beat/loop with kick, kicksnare, kick, kicksnare. So that you can hear your kick on its own, and once again with a snare over it. Adjust the level of the snare so that your kick is punching out your snare, not too bright, but punching it out hard. (Helps to have good monitors so you can feel the bass flutter your pants).

3. CYMBALS. Cymbals also need to splash off the kick, you want the fluff of your kick to splash the cymbals out with impact. Like the drummer from a metal band smashing his cymbals and double kicking.

4. THE REST!. I dont wanna bore u with too much details, but the hi hats and any other sound effects should be easy to fit in now.

5. BASS. Bass again works off the kick punch, the tone on the kick sound should sound like its a part of the bass tone, and the bass SUB should sit so very slightly under the kick, enough for it to feel like its the bass itself attacking the notes that is creating all the punch(which it is actually the kick at round 150 hz)!

6. REVERB. I have found that reverb is not compulsary. Listen carefully to the CDs of your favourite music and you may find that often Reverb is not used on drums and bass. Especially in Hip Hop/RnB. A fat tight sound, good mixing and only very little reverb here and there.

FEELING ME?

Im happy to hook up with other musicians, singers and producers so if you are can relate to the way I mix and produce why not email me contact@dsdj.com.au . We might get along! I produce all styles of music from Trance/Dance/House to Hip Hop/RnB/Pop and my favourite... METAL!

Paul.
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well jude first and 4 most, thank you very much. It is very kind of you to share the skills you have learned. Most massive respect this is very very straight forward, i have picked up quiet a few things from that article that i havent thought of

a quick question to you and the rest of the guys....... i produce trance tracks in ableton live 4. now until of late i have always put a compressor on the master bus(waves l2). however i have heard this is bad as when it goes into be mastered it is better to not have compression on the master.

Should i put a limter/compressor on the master or just nothing???????? if no compressor or limiter what do i want the whole mix to sit around in db?
i am down with fat dirty uplifting underground tech house trance chill out mixed with hard/soft breaks but only new and old skool.
does this make me in?
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Quote:

Originally Posted by condivi

now until of late i have always put a compressor on the master bus(waves l2). however i have heard this is bad as when it goes into be mastered it is better to not have compression on the master.

Turn it off when you are bouncing the premaster you goose.

And you should typically mix with as little stereo master insets as possible, leave all that for mastering.

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Quote:

Originally Posted by mungo

Turn it off when you are bouncing the premaster you goose.

And you should typically mix with as little stereo master insets as possible, leave all that for mastering.


alright alright i am no master i didnt realise. as to my previous question what db do i want the mix to sit at
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Quote:

Originally Posted by condivi

alright alright i am no master i didnt realise. as to my previous question what db do i want the mix to sit at

As hot as you can without clipping (and no cheating and using a normalize function)

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Quote:

Originally Posted by mungo

As hot as you can without clipping (and no cheating and using a normalize function)


fuck without clipping.............. twill be sooo quiet ahahahah i cant belive i have been putting a comp on the master for so long. what a noob

hahah thanks mate
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keep it around -6dbfs so the mastering engineer has room to work
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thanks for the tips mate, just new to home producing and ur tips have helped with taking the washiness out of my tunes
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Awesome thread Jude! Props to you, great break-down of basics.

Just thought I'd mention a freaky book, a 'Rock' mate of mine was given by his manager, "Mixing with your mind."
here's a url to go with.....

http://www.mixingwithyourmind.com/preview.htm.

I have to say this book rocks! it builds or consolidates on previous knowledge/wisdom etc. Fuckin' expensive @ $80 odd bucks but well worth the cost.

cheers squak.
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squak... i got the book, its amazing. the compression section is a mix of mine and stavs views as used by me.

thanks once again for the props
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Hey, Jude! Great tutorial! Published it for ages at muz.logler.com if you dont mind. Keep up great work!
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hey, cool. thanks bro
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kool i like it
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nice tips
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can you do any more tutorials? thats really nice.
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Quote:

Originally Posted by Jack1591

can you do any more tutorials? thats really nice.


sure, what do you want to hear? im more than happy to share what i know
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great tute.. I do things a little differently (not much tho) but its interesting to see what someone elses approach is....
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Is there an easier genre to start DJing with? Like as a beginner? I've got heaps of house, electro, trance, hard house and am about to get CDJ's and want to learn so whatever is the easiest genre would be best suited for me.
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ohhh yes, me please!

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read the tutorial buddy. you will find it is about mixing, not DJing. ie, many seperate parts of tracks appearing on huge numbers of faders... not playing other peoples music.


use the search function this lovely forum provides. look and ye shall find
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Nice tutorial!

Ive been reading all kind of mixing tips everywhere on the net. This is something original. So did you write any more articles?

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Short and to the point.

I like it!
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Good job Jude a++ for effort
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what are we hoping to acheive with this mixing? anyone care to dumb it right down? links to tutorial for those who know absolutely nothing about mixing? cheers in advance
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