of your mix is
influenced by your equipment, your technical skills, and the path
between the audio and your ears. Elements such as attitude, time
constraints, physical endurance, creativity, co-operation,
documentation and management effect the outcome as well.
• The Equipment
DAW, console, eq's, compressors,
limiters, gates, mic pre's, pluggins, mastering software, analog stuff,
electrical stuff, etc.
• The Engineer
acoustic concepts of space, depth,
tone, frequencies, dynamics, gain structure, originality, time behind
the board, etc.
• The Environment
control room, your living room, your
car system, night clubs, the radio, the Internet, iPods, elevators,
listening and re-listening and
re-re-listening and comparing and balancing a large number of factors
to get what you what you want. Often we find that there is a teeter-totter
effect that can occur: bring up the highs, and now the bottom needs
more. Bring up the bottom, and the mids need more. Bring up the mids
and now there's no bass... bring up the bass and the vocalist can't
hear herself.... I call it "frequency displacement."
is to EQ different instruments at different frequencies -
particularly leaving a "hole" for the vocal to come through. Another
solution is creative compression - keeping certain things from jumping
out at you, thereby taking your attention away from other elements.
After all the mixes are done, it's common that each one will lean
a certain way... more vocal on one... less on another... more highs on
one... more bottom on another.
where traditional mastering and Separation
adds another solution - we can make each song lean more
in the same direction if a client prefers. We listen to all of the
songs throughout the project to get a more "global" view of how each
song sits in the album. When our clients submit Separations, we can go
back if necessary and "tip" the blend - if requested - to better
achieve the client's goals. When a super hot CD is desired,
submitting Separations work
well because gone are the associated compromises of getting all the
locked-down 2-track mixes to be more consistent.
Dilemma: Often, clients with the
smallest budgets are the ones who send projects
that need the most help. They've worked hard to put together a studio,
spent bucks getting cool studio gear (darn if they didn't have to
sacrifice some practice time and lessons to get that gear), they're
excited about recording.... they're ready to master... do the
graphics... press the CD...
send us some
reference songs from commercial CDs that
they love the sound of...
...and they love
edgy sound of Pantera...
mixes are warm and
covered like an earlier Stone Temple Pilots CD.
...they love the
fullness of the Throwing Copper CD by
guitar tracks in their
mixes are mixed back in to the track...
These artists are
folks. They're going through what every
engineer on the planet goes through when it comes to recording. We all
tweak, dial, massage, jump up and down, edit and do everything in order
to make a great recording. It takes time and experience to learn how much
and what to tweak.
#1: Really listen
to commercial CDs when you're mixing. Match the volume of your mix and
the commercial product. Then go back and forth - your mix, their mix -
your mix - their mix. Listen to the drums - your mix - their mix.
Listen to the vocals - your mix - their mix, etc. Listen
to what is driving the mix.
The groove? The vocals? The guitars?
The brass & percussion? What's clear? What's full? What's spread
#2: Be original. Be
creative. Don't get stuck sounding too much like anybody. Experiment.
Go "outside the box." Smile. Have fun!
Q) Do you generally power through seven
hours in just one sitting or can we break it into two sessions? -Erik
of the time
Digidesign people disclaim that anything sounds
different in Pro Tools when it comes to alternate busses, master fader,
summing in the box vs. out of the box, etc. Another
engineer showed us the difference in sound without the master fader -
did not expect it!
I'm comfortable with either. I generally don't like doing complete
mastering on half of the songs one week, and the other half the next
week. That breaks up my feel of the continuity of the album. But
starting one day and finishing the next isn't a problem.
Is it easier
for you to
take away or add
bottom end punch during mastering?
Good question. That depends on the balance between the kic and bass. If
there's too much low low bass, controlling that in mastering will cut
out some punch in the kick. Most often I am focusing the bass
differently for each project. I probably prefer adding bass vs. cutting
- but this can be easily solved if you submit Separations
for mastering - where we can put things in just the right
If you would like to know our eq settings in the bottom department,
we'll be happy to let you know what we did for your future reference. Should I mix with more or less bass?
It depends on the key the bass is playing in and the tuning of the kic,
but for a start, try lower bottom (60-80 Hz) in the kic -- and a warm
bottom (80-150 Hz) with clear mids (1k-3k) in the bass. Compare with
other CDs in the studio while you're mixing.
and/or cymbals that
are already mixed?
Yep. I do it all the time. Generally if you mix cymbals low, it helps
the whole mix greatly. Listen to CDs. A good one that sounds huge is
Eve 6 "horroscope", largely because of the way the cymbals are mixed.
Can you add
expansion type of
qualities to the mix to pull it open and make it sound bigger?
Generally, our digital converters do that somewhat - "I love the wider
sound." is often a comment we get from our clients. We are aware that
some stereo expanders take away punch from the bass because they are
adding out-of-phase material. If you really like that effect... and the
muscle of the bottom isn't as important... we can certainly do some of
that. We can also do some different eq settings on the left-right
perspective and that can help to widen stuff too, without compromising
Some engineers aren't sure how wide to pan different musical elements.
I prefer toms to be panned spreading from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock (full
left being 7:30 and full right being 4:30) - cymbals spread from 8:30
to 3:30 - and stereo room sound full left and right. Some songs, on the
other hand, I might shrink the room down to 11:00 and 1:00 - depending
on what's needed for the rest of the stereo field. It's all relative,
meaning something panned in seems centered relative to something panned
out. A nice way to open up space for a vocal is to pan things away from
the center, leaving a "pocket" that's unique to the vocal. One highly
respected engineer I know even recommends bringing in different reverbs
by a fraction - example: Verb 1 is panned -100 to +100 and Verb 2 is
panned -99 to +99 and Verb 3 is panned -98 to +98.
If you plan to submit Separations in for mastering, then you can lean
toward a wider spread, because things can be brought in on a more
specific basis... but best is just to get panning the way you like it -
don't plan for us to change it. An advantage of Separations is that if
we hear some big issue, let's say, in the instruments - we can make a
suggestion - and you only need make one new pass of the instruments to
be inserted back into the Separation tracks here. NOTE: You must be
sure that you start your Separations at
exactly the same place each time -or- include a cue "click" or some
percussive sound at the beginning of each Separation so that we're
always always able to line them up accurately. Separating the reverbs
via Separations means that they're not all being mathematically summed
in the same mix buss.
Another factor in "big" sound is using high-end cables whenever
possible, particularly digital cables to eliminate or reduce jitter. A
$350 digital cable can have as much benefit as a $3,000 converter! All
your audio cables, mic cables, heck even instrument cables and power
cables make a big difference.
is started - first
pushing a 'mono' button on mixer and mixing tracks, and then, when it
sounds good enough, panoram it over stereofield. Did you had such
experience? - Alexander (from Russia)
No. Mix your stereo field first. If you sum to mono just to see if you
hear something you might change, then make the change - but be sure you
still like it in stereo after the change. Mono just combines the left
and right into the center, and is good to see if your stereo mix also
sounds good from just one speaker. Some older TVs have mono speakers,
so it's common to check the sound in mono, but usually after the stereo
mix is set the way you like it.
If when we
stereo, and move some
track, for example, into left chanel, when it completeley left it
sounds more quiet then it was while it was in the center. - Alexander
Sometimes a track will be easier to hear in a different pan position,
because it's not competing or conflicting with something in that "pan
location." Some pan controls actually have a different volume level in
the center than they do off to the edges. This can be confusing.
Compare your mixes with other CDs and see how your stereo field
Q) I seem to
quite a fair amount
of reverb. However, once the mix is finalized and everything is going
it is hard to hear it, so should I mix with more or less reverb, or in
other words, is it harder to add or take it away during mastering?
When everything is going, it is common to hear less of the reverb.
That's because there's space being filled by other signals in your
musical arrangement. It takes space to hear reverb more noticeably. Try
taking stuff out whenever you can. Quincy Jones is famous for that.
He'll try removing as much as he can without changing the vibe.
However, if stuff just can't be taken out, just trust that it's there
underneath and is giving space to the stereo field. Mix it so that you
love the way it sounds all together. It's very common to stop your
multitrack and hear gobs of verb and think, "Wow, that's a lot of
verb." but then in the mix it makes sense.
Mastering shouldn't take away reverb, although it can make it more
audible in some cases. The louder the CD's overall level, the more you
can hear everything, but it all blends together in a way that there can
be less air and openness too. CDs are just getting louder, and we're
hearing compression now as a part of the "new sound", whereas before,
mastering people tried like crazy to make compression invisible. Verbs
are just starting to blend blend blend. My suggestion would be to check
it all out when you get the mastered version in your hands. If there
needs to be more verb, you can send me another mix, or I can add some
here (not my favorite thing to do, since it's adding to the whole
banana, not just one or two things.... unless I'm just adding verb to
your a capella vocal track and adding that into the mix... then yes,
it's a separate thing... takes some time to do though...)
compressing the buss out,
do you have any other suggestions as far as things to do that might
make the mastering process more robust?
Mix the cymbals low, keep the bass notes at a consistent level, even if
it means riding the faders (a very natural form of manual compression).
Make sure you can most every word of the lead vocal (riding faders or
creating a volume draw can help) - unless your music is more textural
and less lyrical... um, just listen to commercial CDs as you mix and
glean as much as you can from the artists who have spent 1/4 mil. $ and
render my vocal
only mix I have
volume envelopes, compression and verb. Do you want me to render them
completely dry and without volume changes [for Separations]? And what about the harmonies?
Do you want them mixed together or separate?
Leave all of your processing still in place and put all vocals together
in one Separation with the associated verbs. Separate the lead from the
backups only if you feel there are blending issues that you would like
us to address. Let us know if you want us to make you mastered TV mixes
(music + backups minus lead vocal) and/or mastered instrumental tracks
(no vocals). Generally we recommend that we give you less-hot
instrumentals and TV mixes because these are used in cases where "Hot
CD" competitiveness isn't an issue, and better dynamics are more live
I am having
hard time deciding
what playback unit is the most suitable. When I finish a mix I play it
back on several different units (i.e.. my car, my boombox and my living
room system) and each unit brings out different strengths and
weaknesses of my mix. Which one should I trust?!? Should I trust the
least expensive one assuming that the higher quality units will make
the music sound better?
Get a sense from all of them, not just the cheap units. I would go more
with the better system and the car. The master we send you will be more
compatible in all systems - but still remember each system will always
have it's own sonic texture. Listen to commercial CDs in each unit
before playing your music. Match the level of your music, even if you
have to change the volume control. Listen to the timbre of the music,
not the difference in volume... and check out Studio Monitor Madness for more
I do not have a
DAT so I will be bringing the songs on a CD. However, do you prefer it
rendered in WAV or MP3 format?
NOT MP3!!!!!!! AIFF, SDII or WAV is fine.
Include an audio
CDR of your mixes either way.
said to make
sure that the bass is
even throughout the song and compress it a ton if needed, what would a
lot be? I use about a 4:1.
That's a good ratio. It's a lot when you solo the track and you really
hear it sounding like it's a little over the top. Go by the way it
sounds in the track mixed in. You should hear the notes pretty clearly
and consistently, and none should jump out at you unless that's what
just use a volume
envelope to physically lower and raise the level during rhythm or feel
changes, do you recommend this?
Yes! That's manual compression and it's a great way to go.
Right now I
mix a lot of
high end into the
bass to add that string noise and clarity that my bassist loves so
much, during mastering will too much high on the bass make the string
noise too loud?
Possibly. Stay away from anything over 5K. More meat comes through in
the mids. Typically we add some clarity to the sound, so too much bass
sticking out will be accentuated. Clicky sounds can be mistaken for
ticks or glitches when high-end details are added in mastering. Some
kick drums can have a sharp attack too, and the bass player should be
right on the money with a kick like that so that there aren't flamming
spikes in the rhythm playing. Mastering via Separations solves all of
into his cymbal
work, he does a lot of cool syncopation on his hats and ride. He is
always riding me to be sure that those subtle qualities can come
through, yet you said to mix the cymbals lower. Are you suggesting that
during mastering the cymbals come to the front quite significantly? And
are you speaking of all cymbals or just the crashes?
Mostly crashes.... but yes, if we add clarity, percussive-note cymbals
come forward, but not heavily. With traditional mastering, we generally
won't accentuate cymbals much because we're being careful not to
compromise the sound of the voice and mid instruments. Not meaning to
be redundant, but Separation Mastering solves this. Meanwhile, ask your
drummer to listen to commercial CDs and compare. Usually, less is more.
In a live gig you aren't cramming so much sound into so little dynamic
range, so you can open up more.
good intention that it helps the band sound more proficient.
Problem is that most producers view overplaying in the same category as
inexperienced, and so the good intention ends up being a sour
give-away. Some of the most skilled musicians get hired because they
know when to leave spacebe unique.
for other stuff. If you start with
less, a record company producer can always ask for more, and they'll
usually think of the subtle approach as being a more wise calling card,
because it's putting the musicality and pocket (groove) in front of the
gear list. If your music is very progressive and musically detailed,
again, listen to commercial CDs and just use your best judgement - but
remember - Any general EQ ideas
Roll off some 30hz from the kic, and add some 2.5k to it. Add more
highs and mids (say at 4k) to the snare and gate the toms slightly.
Take (at least some of) the carpet off the floor when tracking the
drums. Don't compress the snare until later in the mix process. Cross
sticks can usually be brought forward more. (More drum tuning ideas
Guitars do well with 100hz-200hz (peaking mostly vs. shelving) and some
compression. Keep mids on steel guitar clear, but not shrill.
Stand back from your monitors sometimes. Occasionally you can even go
into another room and hear what you hear through the doorway - not as a
main reference, just as something to try - get "out of the box" to find
what works for you. If you're going to compare in the car, start your
test cassette (or CDR) with commercial CD songs first (maybe 1/4 of a
song at-a-time), and then put your mix on.
your car stereo level to hear each song at the same volume - DON'T try
to mix or compress your music to the same level of the commercial stuff
- that product is mastered...you are MIXING right now. (More here.) Don't try to do what
the mastering engineer does in order to get that level on CD. Just
change the volume of your car stereo (or home CD player). A-B'ing in
the car can be different than in the studio, where you should be able
to level-match a commercial CD to your mix.
thanks for the
great feedback. But
what does a De-esser really do?
A) It's a compressor that only
the highs. The
word "SSSiZZZorSSS" would come out "sizzors" (I know - it's not spelled
right). Years ago when I was in my band, I liked the recorded hi-fi
sound of sizzly S's. But my suggestion is to keep vocal diction
Q) My program doesn't seem like it brings it out enough.
A) De-essing shouldn't "bring
- it should soften the S's! The idea is that by softening the S's, you
can add more high end or mid-highs to the vocal (therefore more
presence) without the S's spitting out over the whole mix.
Q) I can't
vocals to have presence
or not make them too dry as you suggested. Should I be adding more wet
signal to the reverb?
Well, reverb *is* what I call
signal. The dry
signal would be the vocal (send) coming from your multitrack. Make sure
your reverb (return) is getting to the mix/remix buss. When your whole
mix is going, the input meters on your reverb should be reaching up to
(but not touching) the overload level of the reverb unit. Adjust the
signal coming out of the unit so that it sounds appropriate in your
mix. Most verb units also have an internal wet-to-dry ratio. Unless
it's a live situation where you want the dry sound of the instrument
coming through the unit, I recommend setting it to 100% wet. All of the
dry signal should be at the channel fader. Keep in mind that dialling
in the parameters of this stuff in a computer/pluggin system may differ
from what I'm describing.
Reverb does add some extra dimensional presence and body. Reverb varies
a lot from artist to artist. I used to think that Steely Dan's sound
was too dry, but after years of getting used to it, I think it's
classic. They're a studio group, so the precision and definition of
each instrument is quite nice. Foreigner is too dry for my taste as far
as rock music - which for me I envision being in a big concert space. I
think the sound of Boston is classic. Either way, the reverb settings
probably didn't affect record sales!
People's taste changes in music over time. I know when Led Zeppelin
came out, I thought Robert Plant's voice was weird. Now I love it. I
don't recommend trying to overly-satisfy what you think others will
like, whether we're talking reverb or anything else. Do what *you*
love, and the right audience will want to hear that.
Q) [I've had
my share of mixing
frustrations. I will take your advice to heart ] A part of the reason why I'm in
it comes to mixing is because after I've trashed all the patchbays I
get much more of a fuller sound now - which I'm not used to. I was
really stunned when I found out how much of the signal they (and
probably the cabling) stole.
I had my project studio wired with patchbays for convenience all these
years, and never understood why I couldn't get the real punch out of my
recordings, until I dismantled everything and set up a temporary
recording session with the same gear but without the patchbays.
So that should also come as a warning to all beginners; Be careful with
patchbays, always keep the signal path as short as possible, and if you
really do need them, use only state-of-the-art.
You're right on-target! Good
cable makes a
difference, whether it's digital, analog, or power cables!
Q) Do you ever
reverbs hard L or R?
I NEVER do that because they lose too many dB when played in mono. Sure
it sounds bigger on a stereo system, but in mono the mix is just wrong.
I pan no more than 64 L,R on PT, but I´ve heard that many people
pan hard L,R.
It just depends on what the
are. It could
seriously effect the mono mix, important to consider for tv and AM
radio. But for the majority of applications, I encourage wide mixes
with a balanced eye to the mono compatibility.
Am I "right"
Gosh, I don't think there's any right or wrong. I think it's the
meaning you give it. I like panning wide on some things, but do what
you feel is best! If you're summing in the analog domain, the Nautilus
COMMANDER has full pan controls right on the mixer.
Q) I am
in Logic Audio 4.8
software. In preparation for mixing, I want all the tracks to be the
around the same volume without clipping. Should I normalize all the
Normalizing isn't necessary unless you are seeing clipping. Those red
"over" lights should never go on.... ever. but it's worse if you record
a track at a low level and you bring up the gain, only to bring it down
again on your faders. Bring tracks down only when you need to keep them
out of clipping, and bring them up only when you run out of headroom
and your need more to mix with.
Q) Why do you
not use master faders in Protools? Sound quality would be better - is
there a reason for that???
computer programmers, and we can only guess that it requires
processor power to have the master fader in. Taking the master
out in Digital Performer makes a big difference, as does turning off
graphic features like the meter display in the virtual mixer. It
seems that there's some kind of processor "headroom" that's
what we're saying here - try it yourself and see what works best
for you. It helps a great deal if you have high resolution audio,
speaker and power cables, and of course high resolution monitor
control. It makes a big difference if you have high resolution
speakers that are full range, and usually not powered speakers (the
vibration takes away some resolution in the image).
Q) You have more mixing suggestions than
I've ever seen on any other site! Is there any one more thing I can do
Um.... think about mixing to analog
tape? How about say
this over and over - "Om Mani Padme Hum" - a client tells me
this is a Buddhist chant meaning "Enlightenment exists in all things."
That should do the trick!
Created 6/7/00 • Modified
contacts - a must