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Phase 4: Mixing (Part 2) - Volume, Panning, EQ, Compression, Reverb

April 28, 2022
4 min read
Mixer

High Pass Filters

Having cleaned up my session, color-coded my tracks and set up my buses, I can set out to the actual mixing of the song. Before I start mixing anything, I'll go track by track and add an HPF, or High Pass Filter on EVERY track. This is essential in getting tighter bass. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it? Follow me on this... A large speaker cone (woofer) takes a fair amount of energy to move it accurately, especially in the lower frequency ranges (up to 100-150 Hz or so). The human hearing starts around 20 Hz, the low 'E' on a bass guitar is 41.2 Hz....the lowest musical note (low B) is 30.9 Hz, so you can basically roll off anything below 25-28 Hz. this will allow your power amplifier and woofers to more easily and accurately reproduce the musical information above 30 Hz without wasting energy trying to reproduce lower frequencies or noise your mic picked up below 25 Hz. Unless you are using very high-quality, 'linear' EQs or one with oversampling, I recommend using no more than a 6 DB/octave slope to avoid phasing issues inherent in lesser EQ plugins.

Starting to Mix

After my HPFs are in place on all tracks I usually start my mix process with the drums, bringing up the kick and snare and then balancing in the overheads to get a natural cohesive drum kit sound. I'll usually pan the overheads hard right and hard left, the kick and snare typically stay up the middle. Then I'll bring up the bass and balance the bass against the drums. bringing in the rhythm guitar, and vocals next to get a big picture before pulling up keys a, lead guitar parts and BGVs.

Bringing up the elements 1 by one helps inform me as to where in the 'soundstage' to place them. Rhythm guitar perhaps at 11 o'clock, keys maybe at 3 o'clock, lead guitars at 1 o'clock, percussion at 9 o'clock, etc. Let the song speak to you. Collaborate with the artist(s) as to where they 'see' the mix. You want to create the feeling of looking at the stage and where the performers are on that stage. create a nice balance from left to right. Bass, kick drum, snare and lead vocals usually sit in or very close to the center. Use the other space from left ro right for the other instruments and for the background vocals.

Utilizing the Instrument Buses

Balance each instrument within a bus, then see how close you can come to a good mix with the bus faders before grabbing any plugins! you'll be surprised how good you can get it to sound this way! Remember each plugin has the potential to cloud your mix, so use them sparingly!

Now it's time for subtle enhancements....starting with the drums. I start with the kick, adding compression and/or EQ if necessary. Then listen again to the drum bus as a whole and rebalance the volume, then listen in context with the other tracks. If I'm satisfied with the overall kit sound 'dry' it's time for a touch of reverb - here little goes a long way. Just add some space. I accomplish this with one or more "Effects" buses where I insert the reverb, delay, etc. that I'm going to use as sends from individual tracks or instrument buses. I set up the Effect or "FX" track, then insert the desired 'effect' and set it to 100% 'wet'. Then I'll set up a send on the drum bus for example, and send a bit of signal to the 'Reverb' effect bus. I can adjust just how much signal is going to the effect bus and get the sound I want between 'dry' and 'wet'. This approach is true for all the effects I use - reverb, delay, phaser, flanger, etc.

Consistency Across FX Tracks

I try to keep the reverb consistent across the mix - in other words, I won't use 5 different reverbs all with different pre-delays, taxis and EQs, to my ears, this tends to muddy up the midrange quite a bit. It sounds like the performers are all in different spaces. I fell like using 1 reverb at varying strengths will give me the sense of space I want without clouding the waters so to speak. Of course there are exceptions and creative choices to make, but caution should be used when mixing reverb types across many tracks in a mix.

Bus Processing

Going group by group and treating your instruments and buses with EQ, compression, reverb, etc. and listening again in context after each group of instruments until you have the tones and impact that you want will get you to the point of now 'fine tuning' each element with automation, perhaps automated panning, automated reverb - these are the fun little things that make your song stand out.

Using the instrument buses to apply compression, if needed, is easier than applying compression to 5-10 tracks individually within that group. the group approach makes it easier and quicker for me to get to a good mix, and hopefully, this approach will be helpful for you.

Rest Your Ears!

Remember to give your ears a break every so often. After a few hours, you'll find that you are making decisions that aren't really helping the song. Take a 15-20 minute break, go outside and get some air, or relax in your favorite chair, get something to drink or eat - let your ears 'decompress'.

Once you have arrived at a mix that you're ready to share with other folks, take a look at your dynamic range and overall loudness levels. Depending on the genre, you will need to be within certain loudness ranges (LUFS targets) to be competitive in that genre, HOWEVER, you don't want your mix so hot when you hand it off to the Mastering Engineer that he/she has no headroom to work within which to master the track. A target of -23 to -18 LUFS for overall track loudness is a great place to start. This gives the mastering engineer plenty of headroom to do what he/she needs to do to get your track where it needs to be to be competitive on the world stage.

I hope you have found this series of posts helpful while considering your next recording or mixing session! Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.

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