Mixing In Groups

TO TAKE YOUR MIX TO THE NEXT LEVEL IT‘S IMPORTANT TO ORGANISE YOUR PROJECT INTO GROUPS TO UNLOCK FURTHER MIXING POTENTIAL.

Once you've mixed all the individual channels in your mix it's time to take it to the next stage which is grouping all your channels into busses on your DAW and applying addition mixing to those busses.

 

CLEANUP YOU PROJECT

Before you organise your groups you first need to organise your project. In this day and age of limitless tracks in DAWs it‘s easy for your project to get out of hand, messy, and look like an endless chaotic sea of parts and chunks of audio, midi and automation (mine certainly do).

The first thing you should do before you start your mix is to organise your project. First delete all unused and muted parts so clean up the, then re-order all your tracks so similar tracks are bunched together (Drums, Guitars, Synths, Vocals, Effects, Bass etc..), next give a little colour coding to divide the groups and arrangement, and make sure everything is properly labelled. I find this organising and cleansing process seems to immediately give some clarity on the project which can often get out of hand, as well as setting you up for Group Bus Processing.

 

Fig: After Organising And Grouping

ORGANISE & PROCESS YOUR CHANNEL INTO BUS GROUPS

Now you've organised your project and you‘ve completed your main mix you can go ahead and create bus groups to send all your parts through, it’s a vital phase of the mix to work on groups as a whole as this opening up a whole other level of processing options beyond the intial mix. All DAWs have the option to group parts into Busses, and although the system for doing it may be different the result will be the same.

TYPES OF BUS GROUPS

  1. DRUMS & BASS
  2. LEAD SYNTHS
  3. GUITARS
  4. VOCALS
  5. ATMOSPHERES
  6. STRINGS & PADS
  7. KEYS

It's important to bare in mind that all projects will require different buses depending on the instrumentation used, essentially you should be grouping together elements which share the same positioning & behavior in the mix.

You can then go ahead and add some bus processing which generally consists of some subtle bus compression, EQ, console emulation (such as Waves NLS Emulation), Tape Distortion, subtle FX (Reverb/Delay), Multi-band Limiting

 

 

 

Game Changing EQ Technique

THERE ARE COUNTLESS THEORIES AND METHODS FOR HOW TO EQ YOUR MUSIC BUT I‘D LIKE TO SHOW YOU ONE SYSTEM THAT WORKS FOR ME ON EVERY CHANNEL

CORRECTIVE EQ > LIGHT COMPRESSION > ENHANCING EQ: This is my favourite process chain for handling audio. It‘s good technique to first use subtractive EQ to remove errors in the audio, then send the signal into some light compression to hold it together and then add your enhancing EQ to bring the sound to life.

Hi-Pass: The first and most essential EQ you need to do on all your tracks is to filter out unnecessary bass frequencies, apart from on the Kick and Bass tracks. Even if you can’t obviously hear any bass frequencies there will generally be enough in all your tracks adding together to create a murky bass end, and clutter your mix. The best thing you can do for your mix from the start is to clean up all this murkiness . So go ahead and place a hi-pass on all your parts, excluding just the kick and bass. Experiment with the settings but as a guide you should be cutting away as much as you can without loosing any core characteristic of the sound. Generally a cut-off ranging somewhere between 60hz to 200hz should do the job. And use a soft and natural Q on your hi-pass EQ to avoid any unwanted ripple artifacts.

Hi-Pass EQ

Fig. Applying Hi-Pass filter at the first stage in order to remove unnecessary bass frequencies.

Corrective subtraction EQ. The next stage is to remove any troublesome frequencies from your audio source, such as resonant spikes and clusters. In order to do this you can isolate the unwanted frequencies by first using a boosted narrow band EQ with high Q to locate the problem frequency, then once you‘ve honed in on the undesirable frequency switch turn the gain down to reduce it, and now widen the Q band to soften the EQ if required in-order to achieve a more transparent and musical sound. Repeat until you‘ve removed all the troublesome frequencies (if there are any to start with).

Corrective EQ

Fig. Example showing corrective EQ notches to remove troublesome frequencies

Light Compression: You can now go ahead and send the signal into some light compression to hold it together. It's generally a mistake to compress a sound that contains troublesome frequencies (such as too much bass or resonant notches) as these troublesome frequencies will negatively influence the behavior of your compressor. In order to get the best and most useful sound from your compressor I recommend you first hi-pass then remove troublesome frequencies and then compress, as the compressor wont be dealing will distracting frequencies.

Enhancing Additive EQ: After your compression stage you can now go ahead and add your enhancing EQ to bring your part to life and to help it sit in the mix. Also as a general rule softer and broader curves on your additive EQ sound better than narrow bands, which can sound artifical. And remember to EQ using your ears and don‘t just draw curves based on what you think it should look like. Close your eyes and think about the sound you want.

Enhancing EQ

Eliminate Harshness: Personally I'm a huge fan of softening the top end in my parts to avoid excessive top end. In the current digital era now more than in the analog do.. than ever you need to watch out on excessive top-end frequencies summing together in the mix, creating nasty and harsh sounding mixes. I‘m talking especially 10KHz+. It‘s a smart practice to cut some of the top-end often in your parts. You‘ll find after a while you don‘t need as much super-top end as you thought, and you‘ll be preserving your ears and other peoples ears in the process. If you start by applying extreme hi-cut, and then slowly reintroducing some top end to the parts that need it then you‘ll find that your mix sounds much more balanced, clear and separated.

 

Referencing

Now you've decided on the overall aesthetic and sound it's a good time to find a reference track or 2 that has a similar sound to what you are trying to achieve.

This song should be produced to the standard you are aiming for and it should have a very similar sound and aesthetic to what you are trying to acheive. You should use this track as a reference throughout your mix process to check you are on the right track and that your mix is coming together as it should. Without song referencing you might stray off your path. Referencing your song throughout the mix process keeps you focussed and productive and keeps you from drifting off course.

EXERCISE

  1. Find 3 Reference tracks of similar sound to the song you are looking to produce
  2. Analyse the characteristics and write them down. Qualities to look out for are:
    1. Overall balances: Balance of groove, bass, chords, lead elements.
    2. Drum sound: Type of drum sounds used. EQ and compression settings, levels and FX processing. Natural sounding or very processed?
    3. Core Content: Balance and tonal quality of chord and core music content, how it sits on the drum track and type of processing and FX used on all elements (guitars/synths/bass/strings etc..).
    4. 3D Space: Another characteristic is where everything sits in the 3D space. For example, some genres the vocal will be more atmospheric and set back in the mix amidst, and some genres will have it right up at the front. Knowing all this before hand will make your decision making much easier.
    5. Instrument Layer Density: How minimal or maximal is the genre?
    6. Vocal: Does the genre rely on heavily processed vocals or natural vocals. What types of effects are being used.
  3. During the mix you should refer back to your reference tracks as you go along to make sure you are on the right track, Do the lead elements sit correctly in the mix according to the reference track, and do they have the appropriate aesthetic qualities for the genre?
  4. There are some tools that make referencing easier. For example, check out Sample Magic A/B which let's you quicky A & B from your reference song to your project.
Referencing

Juxtaposition Contrast

ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE TOOLS FOR MIXING AN EXCITING PIECE OF MUSIC IS THE USE OF WELL EXECUTED JUXTAPOSITION

Sonic juxtaposition & contrast and emotional variation is an extremely powerful tool for creating an exciting and dynamic song. A mixdown with a linear emotions and soundscapes throughout can become frustrating, lifeless and unmemorable. When mixing consider how much more life can be injected by introducing juxtaposition into your arrangement. Some basic techniques are: Soothing vs Aggressive, Loud vs Quiet, Complex vs Simple. Trying introducing more of these extremes into your mix to introduce life and a dynamic landscape into your song. This will create a stronger emotional response in the listener

Some examples of good Juxtaposition are:

* Busy vs Calm (Sonic Contrast): If your chorus or main section features loud distorted guitars and powerful drums then consider use of a soft verse, with clean, atmospheric and emotive guitar sequences, strings and a softer drum track. Many classic songs feature strong sonic contrast in the arrangement. From the mix engineering perspective this is achieved through softening EQ, FX and volume in less important sections, narrowing stereo field, so that when the main section comes in the EQ is brighter, FX more engaging, stereo field wider, and the whole piece will be dramatically opened up.

* Emotional Contrast (Aggressive vs Sweet): A very dry, distorted and aggressive section leading to an atmospheric, paddy section with soft anthemic. This would be achieved through used lots of distortion in the first section and dry sound and then switching to more spacy effects and processing in the 2nd section.

* Dynamic Contrast (Loud vs Quiet): If you examine the overall levels in a cinematic score you‘ll notice how extreme the level changes are and you‘ll often find this in pop music. This is a much overlooked technique to introduce stronger dynamic contrast into your arrangement sections, and if need be you can even automate your master fader a little to accentuate the changes.

* Aesthetic Contrast (Intense vs Soft): For example, if you have a club track with a bright saw-based hook lines, punchy chords and hard drums, you should consider contrasting this section with a paddy and deeper dubbed-out section with atmospheric melodies. If you didn't weave in this softer section the and you only have bright and intense sounds then track would get exhausting on the ears and soul, but introducing 2 aesthetically contrasting sections creates a more dynamic, exciting and varied piece. Likewise, if your track is sounding overly digital, then juxtapose it with a highly organic instrument sound choice (guitar, violin, ethnic instrument), or vocal part.

Contrast

Why create music?

russ-davies

People often ask me what motivates me to create a much music, and in truth I ask myself the same thing. Why is it that I cannot stop with this particular creative process.

The truth is I've always been clear in my heart from the early years what it is that is driving me to create music.  For me composing music really is about channelling some kind of vision and energy from the future, to give listeners some of conduit into another world from which we can find comfort, inspiration and direction.

I'm not doing this just because I like how stuff sounds on a purely aesthetically level, like the smell of a rose, although I absolutely love the simple aesthetic of nicely produced music. Or I'm not doing it purely for intellectual reasons, such as enjoying the clever interplay between melodies and rhythms (all those things serve a greater purpose). neither am I doing it just for the money or for social status. Although all those elements undeniable play a part to some aspects of my personality. But they don't detract from the fundamental reason for doing this. The primary driving factor behind me wanted to create art is that I feel the feelings I pursue in music are visions of future, of a world unlike ours right now, but more of what are potential is as a human race 5000 years from now and beyond. A world where technology is spell-binding, spirituality and technology are woven through our daily frabric, and our limitless potential is truly set free. I'm not overly occupied from an artistic perspective in dwelling in the issues of our time. I want to make music that transcends this era and is relevant far into the horizons.. I want to transport our mentality from one which is occupied by the world right now, into a place far from where are right now, where technology and spiritually have evolved us into a more advanced species and civilisation.  For some reason I have always felt that this is my purpose on this planet, to try in my own little way to transmit this message, and I find anything I do that deviates from this purpose just brings me down... And I don't know any other way that I can as effectively contribute to the goal. In truth I find it tough doing other things, I can only do it for a short time before the itch to create becomes overwhelming again.

It is this goal that interests me and it is my personal responsibility as a musician to channel that vision, to hopefully inspire our hearts to move forward towards the goal. It's a feeling, and it's a dream.

On that basis I consider myself a science fiction musician, as opposed to a musician concerned with fictional affairs.