Are you sitting there wondering how to make your mix translate well on all systems and how to make everything work together without clashing with other elements? Then, join us in our “Step By Step Guide to a Mix that TRANSLATES every time.”
Step 1 - Put Everything into Groups and Naming Files Correctly
One of the most important things when approaching a mix is making sure that you can quickly make split-second decisions based on what you’re hearing. Of course, it’s not the only way to mix, but it sure helps when you need to quickly solo the drum bus, the vocal bus, the guitar bus, and so forth. By organizing your project, naming things correctly, and grouping things into their respective areas, you’re going to have the advantage of speed on your side if you need to hear how all the drums are working together, instead of manually soloing each drum instrument and trying to find it.
It’s guaranteed it will affect your final mix because you’re spending less time working on it, which always results in your fatigue level being less at the end and lets your mind and ears stay fresh.
Step 2 - Balancing and Panning
Out of everything that exists in the world of mixing, balancing the sounds correctly and panning them in the stereo field is probably the most important thing you can do.
Sometimes, it helps to put the master section in mono and listen to the mix like that while balancing the gain of your instruments. It’s controversial, but I find that it helps me quickly choose when I’m unsure about something. Finding a good in-between with each sound's volume when switching between stereo and mono goes a long way in getting a perfectly translating mix in the real world. You want to listen deeply and try to think of how you’d like each instrument and vocal to be represented against the other instruments and vocals.
Try to have a set of 3 reference tracks in similar genres and bpm’s to your current project when mixing, and constantly be checking back and forth between them.
I use Metric AB from Plugin Alliance as my go-to tool for this. Keep in mind; your references are mastered, so once you’ve done a fair amount of processing, you should probably switch to mixing into a master limiter, reaching your desired LUFS. This will allow you to have a good understanding of how the mix will stack up against commercially mastered tracks and give you a barebones idea of how the track is going to sound when it’s mastered. This also helps make your mastering engineer's life easier when he receives the file because you can know if the track’s bass will distort at -9lufs or not.
Important Note: Please Take off the master limiter before sending it to your mastering engineer and ensure it’s not clipping. Try to make sure the final output metering isn't going over -6db, so your mastering engineer has some headroom to work with.
Step 3 - High Pass Filters(Low Cut), When to Use Them, and When to not
Some people say you should cut everything below 120hz on everything that isn’t the kick and bass, and some people say it’s destroying the mix. Who to believe?
There’s a fine line between destroying a mix and understanding what instruments need their own frequency space to thrive. In fact, it’s actually beneficial to filter off the top frequencies with a Low Pass Filter(High Cut) on many instruments and sounds, as they actually are supposed to be living in a certain frequency range in the middle, and the super high-frequency information isn’t doing it any favors. So choose carefully, and think about your filtering choices in relation to your sound and production choices.
PRO TIP IDEA:
Grab an EQ, create a High Cut and Low Cut filter, find the point on the frequency spectrum for each where it begins to take away from the sound, and dial it back slightly. Then, make the frequency have a slight resonance boost at the cut-off. You’re going to find your sounds really pop and have this new presence and depth to them without the mud. Of course, it’s not always going to work, and it’s not for everything, but it’s a fantastic trick to do LESS mixing and still end up with a powerful but cleaned-up change.
Step 4 - Bass Control
There’s a couple of things you can do in this department to ensure that you have bass that is controlled enough to be balanced across the whole song but also strong enough to really knock.
Technique 1: One way you can work with this is by splitting up the bass into 3 different duplicate tracks. Label them Low, Mids, and High.
Then, add an EQ, adding a high and low cut on each track, and isolate those frequencies accordingly, so you’re splitting each track into low frequencies, mid frequencies, and high frequencies.
Then, slightly widen the high-frequency track with a stereo widener and add a compressor to each of the tracks. Ensure you pay special attention to the low track, and compress enough to flatten out the sub frequencies, and bring the volume back up of the low track, now with a balanced deep bass which is what usually destroys the song in the car system.
Now, as icing on the cake, put another compressor on the sub frequencies, but this time, enable the sidechain function and send the kick drum in the song to the compressor. This way, you’re not actually damaging the mid or high frequencies of the bass, but you’re getting out of the way of the kick where it matters most!
Technique 2: Surfer EQ - One of the most useful plugins I’ve used in a long time is the Surfer EQ. You can prevent spurious bass frequencies from suddenly destroying your car speakers by using the surf function on this eq on a low frequency and attenuating it. Simple, effective, and you’re guaranteed to have this eq intelligently follow that low-frequency resonance and reduce it to manageable levels! If you’d like, you can also enable the surf function and the dynamic eq function, and both surf while having a dynamic response to the bass frequencies! This plugin is a MUST have!
Step 4 - Compression
Compression matters because when you turn the mix up, it’s easy to notice the dynamic parts sometimes being too dynamic and dampening the listening experience. A word of caution. Some things shouldn’t be compressed heavily. Sometimes, the dynamics of a particular sound is what gives it realism and life.
For example, a violin might not need as heavy compression as a typical pop vocal because the violin might have nuanced dynamics that encapsulate the instrument's feeling. On the other hand, real drums sometimes need to be compressed more heavily than digital-sounding drums. It all depends on what function you’re trying to achieve when compressing. For example, you could compress a snare with a very fast attack and fast release to bring down the transient of the snare if it’s too much in your face. Or, you could be compressing a drum kit heavily to bring up the room sounds for a creative effect. Be conscious of what you’re trying to achieve, and be especially mindful when utilizing the attack and release of a compressor. It changes for different goals.
Generally, a good place to start is to compress the things you want to control in the mix by 3 to 4db. Then, once you’ve done that, re-assess and add another compressor(called compression feathering) to handle the remaining peaks that are bothering you.
Step 5 - De-resonating and Boosting
Using a smart EQ such as Nova Gentlemans Edition from Tokyo Dawn labs to help you find the most offending frequencies in a sound sometimes goes a long way in speeding up the processing of manually finding them. Hit the Smart Ops function, learn the particular section, and then click static de-resonate. Set the EQ quality to INSANE+ at the top of the screen, and you should be getting yourself a great starting point to understanding what’s an issue in the sound.
Sometimes, those resonances are incredibly important for the timbre of the sound. Therefore, I suggest utilizing a multiband compressor on that specific set of frequencies to flatten the volume response of the frequencies that might occasionally get out of line while not losing much in the way of naturalness in that region.
Finally, Boost the frequencies of the upper mid-range in the sounds that need it, and work out if you need to reduce or increase your bass or high-frequency areas of the EQ in each sound slightly by listening to a reference song and checking your mix against the bass and high-frequency balance there. Again, you don’t have to have perfect monitoring to do this trick, but it always helps!
Step 6 - Saturation
Now, adding subtle saturation to your mix's sounds can go a long way in lifting it that last 10%. You probably shouldn’t be aiming for saturation to get your mix to the finish line if you’re only 50% of the way there, but rather use it as a tool to enhance an already great mix.
Analog Gear does a great job at doing this, and often, you can achieve some level of saturation by using it in the earlier stages.
Sometimes, even running it through some analog gear with a subtle setting can go a long way as it stacks together to bring about a final product.
If you don’t want to use analog gear on the mix, you can always use Saturn 2 from fabfilter, with the subtle transformer setting and adding a small amount of saturation on multiple channels.
For some superb saturation, check out our Fairchild Compressor and ADU 670 in our Analog Bloom Bundle! Rich, Warm analog saturation Guaranteed.
That’s all for now! I hope this helped; thanks for stopping by!