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#162045 - 06/09/12 03:09 PM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Mixing Tips
Steve Young Offline

Registered: 06/17/10
Posts: 1598
Loc: Canyon Lake, TX
Hi all! I had several people ask me to do a post in this section of the forum to offer up how I record/mix/master my songs. (I know there are some purists who say that you can only "master" a group of songs, as opposed to a single song - so when I refer to mastering, I'm talking about the "final" step in my mix, where I add the mastering compression, eq, set the overall volume, etc.)

First of all, let me offer my disclaimer: I do not consider myself a professional, or great mixing engineer. I am confident in what I do, but always learning. Some of my methods are probably not the best way to do things, but they work for me (until I learn a better way ). I welcome any comments, and especially welcome your tips/suggestions on what works for you. (That way I can steal some of your techniques, and get better!) This will be a pretty long post, so here goes...

For my ground rules for mixing, my most important equipment is my ears. I have seen excellent mixes come from the least expensive setups, using good ears! I think somebody on this forum used to have a signature that said "if it sounds good, it is good".

Part of what makes a good mix is a good arrangement. The more complex the arrangement, usually the more difficult it is to get a "good" mix. So most of the time, simpler is better. I try (many times not too successfully) to remove every part that is not contributing to the overall quality of the mix. So many times, I have had really hot guitar/keyboard/drums/etc parts that sounded awesome alone, but just didn't fit in the mix. Remember nothing is sacred about an individual part, unless that part it the central focus of the song. If you keep your arrangements very simple, and your mixes clean, people will think more of your productions, and your singing will even sound better.

It's important to have a clean recording of each part. With BIAB, that is pretty simple. Most of your foundation will be clean, and professionally recorded (if using Realtracks), and MIDI is pretty easy to record, as it is a "controlled" sound. So that leaves your vocals, or any "external" instruments that you may play. I do everything "in the box" - I my computer for all my recording/mixing/etc. I have both a PC and a Mac. When I'm using my Mac, the daw is Logic Pro. When I'm using my PC, the daw is Sonar X1 Producer. (I like both. In my opinion, nowdays for the most part, a daw is a daw. They all pretty much have the ability to produce pretty good quality recordings. It's a matter of preference what you use. If you have BIAB for PC, it comes with RealBand, which is plenty good enough to start with. I use a Focusrite Saffire 6 USB interface, and have a couple decent mics that I use - Audio Technica 3525 and a MXL. They're not too expensive $200 or so, each.

Now for my method of workflow...
I do the basic arrange for my songs in BIAB. Once I have the arrangement done, I export each part to a WAV file, and then import each WAV file into Sonar/Logic. (When I export to WAV, never include any effects or tone changes - I add any effects/eq/etc in Sonar/Logic). I set the volume on each part to 111, and export to WAV. (111 because I'm too lazy to type other numbers!)

Once the BIAB WAV's are imported into Sonar/Logic, then I record vocals. Usually record 1 track for Lead Vocals verses, and a separate track for Lead Vocals choruses (maybe a 3rd for bridges, transitions, etc.) When I record my Background Vocals, I record usually at least 3 separate tracks for each harmony part. It's not uncommon for me to have 16-18 tracks of just background vocals. Don't worry, doesn't take long to do - I just find the verse/chorus where I want to add the vox, and 1 pass record each track til I have them all done. When the BGV's are layered, the slight imperfections actually help to "thicken up" the sound. I usually only re-record a BGV if a word is mis-pronounced, etc.

I take the drums generated by BIAB, and place them on 3 tracks: 1 track eq'd for the mix, a 2nd track with effects, and a 3rd track no eq/effects, with the WAV nudged to the right a few milliseconds (not enough to cause any phasing problems). Then I bring the 3 tracks up to combine the drum sound - the 1st track (eq'd) will be the dominant drum sound, then bring the "effects" (usually reverb) to suit the sound, and finally the "nudged" track is brought up to "fatten" the sound.

Bass is done somewhat similar concept, with the bass part on 2 tracks. 1 track eq'd for the low end, and the 2nd track eq'd for the mids and high. I usually send the 2 bass tracks to a bus where I put any finishing touches (distortion, amp sims, compression, etc)

I also send all my Background vocals to a bus where I put reverb/delay, etc. I also eq the BGV pretty thin, with a High-Pass filter taking out everything below around 200Hz or so - sounds drastic, but I don't want my BGV's competing with the Lead Vox.

As to the overall mixing process, I use a LOT of High Pass filtering so the true low frequency sounds I want don't have to overcompete, and make the mix too boomy. Generally the bass guitar and kick are the primary parts I want to be heard in the low end. Instruments like organ and piano can have a lot of low end in them, and I can usually take out most of their low end without compromising the mix.

As to effects, this post would be WAY too long to go into too much detail there. It's a matter of taste, and using your ears. I use Waves quite a bit. They are very good quality, but they can be a little pricey. There are a lot of good free plugins, and every daw that I know of comes with most of the basic plugins you need to get started.

For my mixes, I set up every track to go to a stereo bus that I create (I call it MIX). The Bass, BGV's and any other buses that I have created all go out to the MIX bus. There is a method to my madness! With EVERTHING routed to the Mix Bus, I put all my "mastering" plugins in the Mix Bus. The Mix Bus is routed out to the Master track/bus that all daws use. THEN, I import a PROFESSIONAL track from a comparable cd to what I want my sound to be like. This PROFESSIONAL track is NOT routed through the Mix Bus, but is routed directly to the Master track. I put an Analyzer plugin on the Master track, so I can "see" the frequencies used in BOTH the Professional Track and my output from the MIX BUS. (This way the Professional Track is not treated by the "mastering" plugins in my Mix Bus.) I keep the Professional Track Muted. Now, once I start getting my song "dialed in" in the mix, I just simply Solo, and unmute the Professional Track, so I can A/B the sounds, and try to get as close as I can to emulating the overall "sound" of the professionally produced track. You can get pretty close. Just remember, George Strait has a virtually unlimited budget, uses the most expensive equipment, and the best engineers in the business. I have a thousand dollar computer, and I've been married 35 years, so I have 35% hearing loss in my right ear!

There is a lot more to what I do, but this is the foundation. Remember, the most important instrument is your ears for mixing. Also, no matter where we are, that's where we are. We can grow from here. I believe it was Frank Zappa who once said "You never really finish a project. An album is just a snapshot of where you were the day you walked out of the studio."

Sorry for this being so long! Please contribute your methods, and let's learn from each other!

Steve Young
"In order to compose, all you need to do is remember a tune that nobody else has thought of." - Robert Schumann

#162046 - 06/09/12 03:59 PM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: Steve Young]
George Nelson Offline

Registered: 12/12/02
Posts: 1144
Loc: Scotland
Hi Steve,

Thank you so much for the information. I for one will try your methods.

I have not been writing songs for a while now (or contributing to the forums) as I have taken the plunge and am doing live Folk Club venues.
I would have bet my house that I would not be doing this at my time of life....Now three times a week.
Well I'd have been homeless now Ha Ha

Thank goodness for Band In a Box, as it was the program that launched me on my journey.

Once again thanks for the info.

Best regards
Windows 10 Pro 64 bit, Biab 2018 509, Realband 2018 4
i7 Desktop Computer.

#162047 - 06/09/12 05:12 PM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: George Nelson]
Tommyc Offline

Registered: 01/08/11
Posts: 2502
With your new job how did you have the time to write this? lol

#162048 - 06/09/12 05:37 PM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: Tommyc]
Noel96 Offline

Registered: 10/31/08
Posts: 12735
Loc: Australia
Hi Steve,

Thank you for taking the time to pass on the above information. I found it incredibly useful.

All the best,

#162049 - 06/09/12 06:18 PM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: Noel96]
Pat Marr Offline

Registered: 10/25/08
Posts: 7482
Loc: Winston-Salem, NC
Thanks Steve! I appreciate your willingness to share

#162050 - 06/10/12 07:20 AM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: Pat Marr]
Kemmrich Offline

Registered: 02/27/07
Posts: 1814
Good stuff, Steve. Thanks for your insights. I use a very similar approach, but only have recently been combining things on extra buses. I'll have to give the multi-tracks of drums/bass a try.

I have also been reading that a low-pass filter on a lot of the tracks also can clean-up the extraneous high frequency stuff (just like the high pass filters help clear out the unneeded low frequency stuff). ... and when you use all this low pass/high pass stuff, it doesn't really matter what the "solo'd" track sounds like -- only what it sounds like in the overall mix.

Now at bandcamp: Crows Say Vee-Eh @ bandcamp or soundcloud: Kevin @ soundcloud

#162051 - 06/10/12 01:24 PM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: Kemmrich]
rharv Offline

Registered: 05/30/00
Posts: 18716
Loc: Marysville, Mi. USA
"... and when you use all this low pass/high pass stuff, it doesn't really matter what the "solo'd" track sounds like -- only what it sounds like in the overall mix"

I see your point, and in that regard it's true.
However soloing the track can still help at times. I've had times when I was trying to fix a bass sound, and found the problem was actually on the low E string of the guitar.
Make your sound your own!

#162052 - 06/11/12 09:51 AM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: rharv]
Kemmrich Offline

Registered: 02/27/07
Posts: 1814
I use "soloing" all the time. I just wanted to point out that the final arbitrator is how it sounds in the mix.
Now at bandcamp: Crows Say Vee-Eh @ bandcamp or soundcloud: Kevin @ soundcloud

#162053 - 06/11/12 09:06 PM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: Steve Young]
MrEd Offline

Registered: 07/09/11
Posts: 101
I really appreciate your unselfishness and your willingness to share. Your songs always sound incredible and professionally done.

Thanks again for taking the time to post your mixing tips.


#162054 - 06/12/12 09:15 AM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: MrEd]
musiclover Offline

Registered: 08/13/09
Posts: 1454
Loc: Ireland
Thanks a lot Steve, really appreciate this and your feedback on song in user showcase.


My music

Windows 7 and 10 (32 bit) M-Audio Fast Track Pro,Band in a Box 2018 Cubase 5.0 and Cubase elements 7.0.

#162055 - 07/14/12 06:12 AM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: musiclover]
PgFantastic Offline

Registered: 02/11/05
Posts: 2646
Loc: Kentucky
Thanks for sharing!
My Tunes

Psalm 57:7 My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.

#162056 - 07/15/12 02:36 AM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: PgFantastic]
dcuny Offline

Registered: 09/27/10
Posts: 1931
Loc: Sacramento, California
Thanks for posting, Steve!

I'm nowhere near where I want to be in terms of mixing skills, but I'll post anyway.

Steve covered just about everything, but one obvious point: stop working on something, and come back to it a couple days later. It's amazing how different something can sound after time's passed.

This thread is probably the best I've read on mixing, and is pretty hardware/software agnostic.

One of the points on that post is that you need to be able to trust your ears. Sadly, I don't think I'm there yet, so I find something like a spectrum analyzer to be really helpful.

A corollary to the above thread's "trust your ears" idea is if you can't hear what an effect does, don't use it. For me, that meant not putting effects onto tracks just because the effect's name sounded good.

One of the hardest things for me is to not start mixing before high/low passing tracks. I just can't resist jumping into the mix, so I consistently skip this step. I intend to go back an clip all the tracks at some point, but then I figure the mix sounds "good enough", and never get around to it.

So don't do that!

Every couple of bars, there should be some sort of change to the texture. It doesn't have to be anything radical. It can be as simple as a tambourine replacing a shaker, or bringing down the volume of the bass. Generally, it means taking something out, and replacing it with something else. Sometimes, it just means thinning the texture as much as possible, so I can build things up again.

I try to build the song at the end. Instead of making everything louder, it's usually better to do things in reverse, and take stuff out before the end, so they can come back in.

I like to use automation to fade things in and out. I figure it's better to fade things out over the course of several measures than to have hard cuts at the beginning of sections, although that can be effective, too.

My general process is subtractive. I'll begin with far too much material, and try to remove as much as possible. I still tend to have overly busy mixes, but I'm working on that.

I start in BIAB, and generate lots of tracks, looking for any RealTrack that might make sense.

I'll also create a version of the songs with nothing but holds on the chords, and create RealTracks from that as well - usually guitars, pianos and bass.

I'm pretty lazy about bass and drums, but I'll usually try to get some drum hits as well. This means making a short song with 4 bar phrases, so I can get various drum fills and hits.

If there are instrumentals, I'll generate a bunch of tracks for that instrument - at least 8.

All this goes into my DAW. I'll then put together a basic rhythm track with bass, guitar/piano and drums.

I'll solo each basic track over the rhythm track to hear if there's something that I like. A lot of tracks get dumped at this point, because they just don't match. But you can't tell until you try.

The basic track is now mapped out with the instruments and fills where I think they make sense. I'll start messing with faders and try balancing things, so hear a rough mix.

I may have to go back to BIAB at this point, to add an instrument I didn't initially know I would need.

Then it's time to work on the instrumental fills. I'll solo the various tracks, picking out the snippets I like the best. Hopefully, by the time I've gotten through the 12 tracks, there's enough material.

If not, I'll look for bits that will match the spots I need filling. One fill may consist of 6 different bits spliced together.

If I'm still stuck for material, I'll got back to BIAB and generate a bazillion variations over the chord progression that I need material for. I may also generate a track over a single chord, just so I have material I can pilfer from. If I'm lucky, I'll find a phrase that matches the contour of what I wanted. If not, I may have to build it from snippets and pitch shift it into place.

There may be something in the mix that BIAB can't supply, and I'll add it here. For example, a MIDI piano part or strummed guitar. I've got a couple of loop CDs I like. Essential Acoustic Percussion has various percussion loops that can be used to spice up a track. I may also go through the drum hits from BIAB looking for material.

At this point, everything is in place. Best practices would have me A/B a reference recording, but I'm not at that level yet.

I'll start looking at effects. The drums/percussion will usually get some reverb, as will the strings and orchestral instruments. In the past, I've tended to go overboard on effects, so now I'm leaning the other direction.

I'll try to put some light reverb on the master buss, along with some kind of mastering effect. EZMix has a couple nice ones, or I might just use a compressor.

In either event, the effect will have brought some instrument more to the forefront that I wanted, so I'll go through the channel levels and compensate a bit.

At that point, I render it to a high-quality MP3, and have another listen. Invariably, there will be something that catches my attention that needs fixing. This repeats until it's way too late at night.

Once that's "done", I'll burn the song to a CD so I can listen to it in the car on the drive to and from work. It's amazing how much different my car sounds from my monitors!

At some point, I'll get so tired of making corrections that I'll actually declare something as finished.
-- David Cuny
My virtual singer development blog

Vocal control, you say. Never heard of it. Is that some kind of ProTools thing?

#162057 - 07/15/12 03:35 PM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: dcuny]
Pat Marr Offline

Registered: 10/25/08
Posts: 7482
Loc: Winston-Salem, NC
thanks David!
----8<----- snip!

#162058 - 07/15/12 10:14 PM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: Pat Marr]
Steve Young Offline

Registered: 06/17/10
Posts: 1598
Loc: Canyon Lake, TX
Thanks, guys, for adding your thoughts! I started a new job a couple months ago, and have been working about 60 hours a week. Sorry I haven't had a chance to post more often. I appreciate everyone's input. A lot of good suggestions from everyone here.

Steve Young
"In order to compose, all you need to do is remember a tune that nobody else has thought of." - Robert Schumann

#162060 - 09/16/12 04:42 PM [Post your own Tips and Tricks here] Re: Mixing Tips [Re: ]
Janice & Bud Offline

Registered: 12/05/11
Posts: 5319
Great information! Thanks for taking the time to post.

Two things I've learned over the years (one which you alluded to):

1. Mixing is never finished -- just abandoned.
2. Perfection is not when there's nothing left to add, but rather, when there is nothing left to take away.
Never grow's a trap.
J&B SoundCloud Sampler
J&B YouTube Sampler
J&B Website

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