Forums Music Music Production Mixing Down Your Tune

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  • #1053521
    AvatarDaftFader
    Participant

    Ok, this is an area I’m still honing myself but I’ll do the best I can to explain it. It’s probably the hardest and most important part of production that there is. The basic idea is to balance all the volumes of each component of your tune to fit perfectly in place and sound like a complete song. Sounds easy right?

    Depending on how many elements there are to your tune the task of mixing down a track can range from a bit of a fiddle to get right to a complete and utter nightmare, at least in my experience anyway (This is why choosing the elements of your song is so important, but I’ll get to that in a bit).

    Minimalistic styles of music will require less harsh mixing techniques as there is more then enough space for all the elements of the tune, and the real challenge is to get the production of them few sounds tip top and sounding sublime on there own. When you are dealing with complex songs with many layers it becomes a lot harder to fit them all into a mix.

    I’m kinda stealing this analogy from somewhere else, but this is my understanding of that explanation rather then a straight copy paste job; If you imagine your final mixdown (before it’s done) to be a box, your job is to fit all the sounds in the box nicely so they all fit and aren’t all fighting for space and bulging out the top like an over packed suitcase. This directly relates to the audible frequency spectrum and you’re sample rate (but no matter how high you have your sample rate you’re still only really working within the audible sound spectrum, higher bit rates will just give you slightly more space at the top end and possibly the bottom end, but as most music will be high and low passed at 20Hz and 20KHz respectively it doesn’t come into play that much – I’ll get into sample rate in another guide at a later date as it’s kinda vearing off subject if I go into it too much here).

    So you have your box of potential sound to fill, this box (as touched on in the last paragraph) will start at 20Hz at the bottom end of your frequency spectrum and end at about 20Khz at the top end (think of this as the left and right of your box). This is the audible range of the average human ear (the top end frequencies of what we can hear gets lower the older you get, but when mixing you aim for 20Khz as we want young people to listen to our music too right? :laugh_at:)

    The top of our box is the maximum volume you want (0Db on your DAW’s peak meter, or about -20/-15Bdfs on a VU meter for a mastered track, but don’t worry about the later for this as you can let the mastering engineer worry about that after). Now in saying that, although 0Db on your master output will not be clipping, most mastering engineers will ask for you to mix your tracks at anywhere from -3Db to -12Db from your DAW’s peak meter as the equipment/software they use to bring the volume up is designed to work best with an input signal lower then 0Db on your clip meter as it’s specifically made to bring stuff up to that level.

    Ok so now we know the “size” of our box, lets get into how we go about making everything fit into our box and some of the complications we might run into.

    There are several ways of mixing down depending on music style and workflow. Some people like to mix as they go and just tweak when everything is finished, this is probably a good idea if you’re making music that’s crammed with sounds that all feed off each other. Styles like drum and bass for example where the sub bass, bass, kick and snare all are driving factors in the tune and if one doesn’t fit nicely with the others the overall tune looses some of it’s umph. When making the tune you’re going to want to have the umph there already as you build the tune as you’ll not be able to guess how it’ll sound at the end when all the volumes are drastically changed. One thing I will say though is don’t get TOO caught up in mixing down whilst you are making the tune as it can seriously fuck with your work flow and creative rhythm (this is my main downfall when making tunes myself). You can always tweak stuff at the end, just get it roughly right to begin with so it resembles what you imagine it to be like, and do the fine tuning later. Different things work for different people though, this is just the way I experience it.

    The other way of mixing down is to make everything individually and mix it down after. This is more suited to recordings of live instruments and bands as you don’t have too much control of them before they are recorded (sonically wise – other then what mic’s and space you’re using to record in; What octave’s are used will have an effect on your mixdown, but this again ties in with my “selecting the components of your tune” bit what I’ll get to later in this thread).

    Lets for this example say we have 6 tracks we are mixing together to make our mixdown. Drums, bass, sub bass, vocals, a main synth and some pads. It varies from person to person and from music style to the next of how you start a mix down. Myself, I make a lot of D+B (what is one of the harder things to get right when mixing down, hence not having totally nailed it myself!) so lets use that as the style for this example.

    I tend to start from the bottom up (and a lot of people do with bass heavy music as the main driving force is the bass and Kick).

    Firstly I’ll start with the drums. The kick and snare (as I mentioned earlier) are massively important to a drum and bass track. They must stand out and be in the foreground or “punch through the mix” as it’s often described, so they need to be at the loudest level in your track (lets say your mastering engineer has stated he wants you to give him your tracks at -3Bd) you can either set these loudest components to be at that level, and then take down the overall volume of your track after if it gets too much above this (and it most likely will after adding other elements if they add volume to the main frequency that your snare/kick are hitting at). Or you can place your main elements slightly below the level you’re aiming for on your master output, mby -3/6Db or so (it’ll take a bit of trial and error getting it right this way as every tune is different).

    Once I’ve got my kick and snare about right …

    Sub bass will generally be as loud as the loudest element’s in your track with drum and bass, this again depends on your style of drum and bass, but lets say we are making a fucking stomper of a tune with a pounding sub bass. So I’ll first set sub bass to the max I want the output to be like with the kick and snare. The snare shouldn’t be too effected by the sub but the likely hood that the kick is is quite high. (chase and status said “if you can get your kick resonating well with your sub then half the battle is won”). You have a few options: EQ and sidechaining and straight Compression of the drums being the main ones. (I’ll update with a link to EQing and compressing soon to save having to go over them twice). You may want to juggle with the volume of the 3 elements you now have in your mix slightly to get a nice balance as you want to be relying on your ear more then your meters, but both a perfectly good tools.

    Now you’ve got your main elements of your track at the loudest of anything in your track (and this goes for any style of music, work with the core elements first and bring everything else up in volume to fit around them) Start to fit in the other elements. I start working kinda backwards from this point; Persoanly I’ll leave vocals till last or close to last (even if they are a main element to the tune) as they need to kinda be overlaid ontop of the tune, but it depends on what you are wanting to achieve with your vocals. If you want melty twisted vocals that are utilized as a complimenting instrument in your song rather then wanting them to be crisp and clear over the whole mix treat them as such :wink:.

    This bit is of utmost importance, EVERYTHING that isn’t your subbass (and even that at 20-40Hz) should be high passed. I’ll also explain this in the EQ guide but it’s so important I’m gonna go over it briefly here as well. Basicaly by doing this you are making more space for your low frequency elements what take up the most room in a mix. It might not seam like much but the slight low frequency content of one single hi hat track becomes many tracks of unwanted low frequency content once you’ve layered all your tracks over each other! This takes up unnecessary space in the mix.

    Going back to our box reference, the lower down the frequency spectrum you get the more space the sound will take up in your box. This is because of how the the wave length changes as you get lower in frequency. The lower you get in frequency the less often the wave will peak and trough, so the distance in between peaks and troughs will be further apart. This means (without getting too technical) that the wave form will be “using more space”.

    For those more technically minded the wave will be in +/- for longer amounts of time causing the speaker to spend a longer time out and in then a higher frequency would. As bass has the longer wave form it yields more power then the higher frequencies because it literally moves the speakers more (when taking in to consideration that we hear higher frequencies more loudly, as although technically a wave of the same amplitude will move the speakers in and out the same amount as it’s the same amplitude, we have set our audio as standard to reflect this and you’ll find in most well made songs that the higher frequencies are actually a lot quieter then the bass due to our perception, they just sound the same volume). If you look into the different modes of music frequency analyzers you’ll see that the most used ones are the ones that have what I would call “perception compensation”. Although they aren’t accurate electronically as such, they are designed to mimic the way we hear things in how they give off readings.

    The reason we hear lower frequencies louder then higher ones, I believe, is due to ear preservation. The lower the frequency, the slower our ear drum moves and less damage is caused compared to if it was moving faster. So we hear in this manner because if we hear something that hurts our ears and is a high frequency we will know about it faster then if it’s a low frequency due to us perceiving it louder. Also the way sound travels probably comes into it, but I’m just gonna go off on a tangent if i get too far into this .. so I’ll leave it at that.

    The next thing I’ll do after the main elements of the Kick, Snare and the Sub is the rest of the drums. Again working bottom up, start with the drum parts that hit lowest in the freq range like toms and deep percussion and get them to a level that doesn’t interfere with anything around them (mainly snare and possibly kick depending how low they actually are) and sounding nice at the level I want. Again EQ plays a massive part in getting this right. Also you’ll want to be thinking about compression to bring out the main characteristics of the sound to be the loudest and shape the sound to have the required attributes (again I’ll link to EQ and compression when I get them guides done)

    Now I’ve got my drums roughly in place I’ll probably start by adding in my pads These general sit in the back ground of a mix and just kinda “fill up” any space in our box making it not seam too empty in places where there’s not much sound content (be careful of putting them too loud as it will make it sound like there’s too much sound in the places there is a lot of sound content). The pads can be adjusted later anyway. You might wanna think about sidechaining when dealing with your pads (this is more of an effect then a mixdown technique though).

    The rest is just bringing up the other elements in your tune to fit nicely amongst each other, again using mainly EQ, compression to get them to fit and sound how you want.

    Sounds easy right?

    Well I’ve just given you the recipe for a banging mono track mixdown. “I want stereo” I hear you say? Ahh ok, so we are going to have to place our elements at different places in the stereo field then aren’t we. Hopefully your individual elements will comprise of stereo content anyway (apart from anything under about 250/300Hz, I’ll get into why in a bit …), so it should be just about juggling them about. I allways view my tracks as a “Y” when it comes to stereo placement (now this applies mainly to dance but kinda is the same for non dance except you’ll find more elements are panned either left or right rather then just “spread more widely” in mixdowns of music recorded by bands and the likes). The lowest frequencies being mono and the highest being the most spread out across the stereo field.

    It’s not a hard and fast rule that it has to be this way (as tbh almost everything I’ve said isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s just the way I do it personally). The high passing is almost a hard and fast rule, but the mono sub bass/bass/kick/low end of snare (for music where the snare sits at like 250ish Hz) is pretty much a rule for 99% of producers. This is because of phasing issues (phaze cancelation). What that means is when the left speaker is going in whilst the right is going out (or vice versa). What you’re trying to achieve with bass is to move a fuck load of air so it hits you like a ton of bricks in the chest and makes your knees shake cos the floor is moving, but if one speaker is doing the opposite of the other it cancels out the waves each other is creating as they are in reverse polarity. I’m gonna make a diagram for this … (actualy I’m gonna try and find one already made :laugh_at:)

    Total phaze cancelation … (or antiphaze)
    [ATTACH=CONFIG]82534[/ATTACH]

    Partial and total phaze cancelation …
    [ATTACH=CONFIG]82535[/ATTACH]

    Two waves in perfect phaze
    [ATTACH=CONFIG]82536[/ATTACH]

    Hopefully that explains it ( I can go into more detail apon request)

    So yeah you want anything below about 250/300Hz mono to avoid phaze issues as you can loose a fuck load of power from your low end from this (unless you get microscopic in atention to detail, or are using shifting phaze for an actual effect on your bassline – even then sub bass and kicks should 100% definitely be mono as they WILL lose punch otherwise.).

    So your bass kick etc is mono, you’ve made your Y shape in the sterio field, like I said the Y isn’t hard and fast as long as you got your bass and kick mono … it all depends on how you want your track to sound and what you want certain elements to do … you could have you mid range synth going mentaly panned from left to right. What ever you feel like. It’s all about creativity right. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Disclaimer:
    I’m sure I’ve missed loads out, but I’ve hit the 3.5 hour mark on wrighting this, so will either update it some other time, or just add bits apon request. It’s no way a difinative guide yet but mearly a starting point for people who don’t know this information.

    hope this helps.

    #1256148
    Avatarthelog
    Participant

    Nice man, I can’t say I have read it word for word yet but I will be sure to make a cuppa and give it a thorough read : )

    #1256155
    Avatarknow_hope
    Participant

    uber! thanks!

    #1256157
    Avatartrusub
    Participant

    Gee this thread is long LOL! will read properly when I’m sober – I’m a bit oldskool and ancient and swear by analogue over driving your mix – limiter plugins etc ‘in my opinion can’t beat a bit of analogue overdrive on a proper desk with at least 8 outs from a decent sound card – OK – maybe showing my age LOL – Will read properly and reply sensibly over the weekend – Helen x

    #1256158
    Avatartrusub
    Participant

    me too lol – this post def needs a cuppa

    #1256159
    Avatartrusub
    Participant

    I have a city and guilds diploma in sound engineering and have engineered for the likes of Stanton Warriors, MC Moose, Michelle Gayle (don’t ask) , Take That and Smiley Culture to name a few
    What you gotta know about bass is you need to be about 16 metres away from speakers to hear a whole bass waveform as low frequencies have the longest waveform – that’s why a lot of bedroom producers mixdown bass heavy cos they are trying to get the club sound in their bedroom – it ain’t happening – best advice – get a RAM tune up and look at it on your logic EQ oscilloscope – look at how their frequencies look and try and emulate that visually – eyes can overcome ears if you have dodgy room acoustics!

    #1256147
    AvatarGeneral Lighting
    Moderator

    @trusub 553180 wrote:

    Gee this thread is long LOL! will read properly when I’m sober – I’m a bit oldskool and ancient and swear by analogue over driving your mix – limiter plugins etc ‘in my opinion can’t beat a bit of analogue overdrive on a proper desk with at least 8 outs from a decent sound card – OK – maybe showing my age LOL – Will read properly and reply sensibly over the weekend – Helen x

    if you reallly want to get the fat bass and get away with slightly overdriving it ideally you want to master to one of these ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Studer_B67_tape_recorder.jpg

    even for just mixing/broadcasting I still use mostly analogue kit rather than doing everything in the DJ software… I’ve tried using my controllers mixer in both analogue and digital mode and analogue plainly sounds better…

    #1256150
    AvatarDaftFader
    Participant

    @trusub 553182 wrote:

    I have a city and guilds diploma in sound engineering and have engineered for the likes of Stanton Warriors, MC Moose, Michelle Gayle (don’t ask) , Take That and Smiley Culture to name a few
    What you gotta know about bass is you need to be about 16 metres away from speakers to hear a whole bass waveform as low frequencies have the longest waveform – that’s why a lot of bedroom producers mixdown bass heavy cos they are trying to get the club sound in their bedroom – it ain’t happening – best advice – get a RAM tune up and look at it on your logic EQ oscilloscope – look at how their frequencies look and try and emulate that visually – eyes can overcome ears if you have dodgy room acoustics!

    Yeah always set up your equipment lengthways in your room so you can get as much of the full bass wave as poss, with no reflective surfaces like mirrors and windows (in an ideal world ofc!). Treat the first reflection points with sound proofing etc. etc. This is more setting up a studio then actually mixing down though ;). It’s actually only about 8 meters away you need to be as far as I understand it. One full cycle of of 40Hz traveling at the speed of sound will mean you get a complete peak to peak cycle in roughly 8 meters. Any reason why you say 2 cycles is more ideal then just the one?

    #1256151
    AvatarDaftFader
    Participant

    @trusub 553182 wrote:

    look at how their frequencies look and try and emulate that visually – eyes can overcome ears if you have dodgy room acoustics!

    I tend to do this sometimes.

    #1256152
    AvatarDaftFader
    Participant

    Here’s a nice starting point for mixing down, it’s very well explained …

    http://music.columbia.edu/~mando/HTML/BasicMixingMethod.pdf

    #1256149
    Avatarthelog
    Participant

    If you have any questions you are best asking me. I showed daft everything he knows.

    #1256156
    AvatarPat McDonald
    Participant

    @DaftFader 488515 wrote:

    Sounds easy right?

    Well… no but there’s a lot of information there to make it easier. So thanks for posting it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    #1256153
    AvatarDaftFader
    Participant

    @thelog 554042 wrote:

    I showed daft everything he knows.

    You showed me every thing I know, and I said “yep, you’re right, I know that.” ๐Ÿ™‚

    #1256154
    AvatarDaftFader
    Participant

    @thelog 488529 wrote:

    Nice man, I can’t say I have read it word for word yet but I will be sure to make a cuppa and give it a thorough read : )

    You make sure you do that. ๐Ÿ™‚

    #1256160
    AvatarNorberg62
    Participant

    cool thank you for sharing dude

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