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Q&A

Q&A: Tips and Tricks for Mixing and Mastering

Over the years, I’ve always struggled with mixing my tracks. I’ve spent hours researching and trying to put what I learned into practice, often with little success. Most producers seek professional help when looking to put the final polish on their tracks for a reason, and that skill set can’t be learned over night. But don’t worry! There’s still a lot you can do to improve the overall quality of your tunes without needing to break the bank.

**I mainly use Fruityloops, so the following tips are described using what’s available in the FL DAW. However, many of these tips are universal and can be easily applied to your setup.**

The first thing to remember is louder doesn’t mean better. You want to give everything space in the mix or it produces a muddy sound, and that makes it REALLY difficult to mix in the end. Everything has a volume knob for a reason. Let the listener use it instead of turning your tracks into a distorted mess. Follow some of these tips to hear a BIG difference in your sound almost immediately.

1)      If you don’t already do this, make sure each instrument is linked to its own mixer track. This lets you change everything about that instrument without tampering with the other ones.

2)      Lower the volume of each individual instrument to -6 decibels (db). Anything over 0 db creates distortion, right? This gives you more than enough room to allow your instruments to breathe without creating distortion.

3)      Now this is key, and I’ll try to explain it as best as I can. Each instrument has unwanted frequencies that you want to cut out. Think of the bass line. The whole point of the bass line is to carry the low-end frequency (30 Hz – 500 Hz range), it doesn’t need to have high-end frequencies (1 kHz – 12 kHz range). You need to moderately cut anything above 500 Hz and below 30 Hz using an equalizer (EQ), so it doesn’t take up room that other instruments should occupy. Hopefully that makes sense.

Think of it in terms of math: 1 + 1 = 2, right? If you place two instruments on top of one another that are the same frequency, the sound produced is double the volume than what it would be on its own. If you’re letting your bass line play frequencies that are in the high-end spectrum, instruments like your lead or even hi-hat/cymbals will be louder. You don’t want that and people won’t even hear the difference. This same thing applies to all instruments. If it’s a high-end instrument, cut the low-end out completely.

4)      The loudest instrument in the mix for Trance and most Electronic music is the kick drum. Solo your kick drum and put it exactly at -6 db. The kick will act as your benchmark for how loud things should be in the entire mix. Your kick needs to punch through the mix and carry the track.

5)      Next, play your kick and slowly mix your bass line into it. I usually put my bass lines around -6.5 to -7 db. Mixing the kick and bass line is probably the most difficult to master because the two sounds share similar low-end frequencies. You don’t want them competing because it creates that muddy sound that I keep talking about.

6)      Keep the kick and bass line playing and add in your lead/main melody instrument. The lead will be about -7 db, but you will need to play around with it and go by ear.

7)      Next, keep those three instruments playing and add in your synth pad/layer. This one you need to mix in by ear for sure. You don’t want it to be overpowering anything. It needs to kind of sit there to tie everything together. It’s like spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread, lol. This could be anywhere from -10 to -15 db.

8)      Once you have those key instruments set up, you basically have the framework for the entire mix where you can insert your other instruments in. For instance, if you have an arppegiated instrument going, you can blend it in with the synth pad, but don’t make it loud to the point of overtaking the lead instrument.

9)      After that, you simply add in your other instruments, layers and effects. You position them just right in the mix so everything has its say without overtaking one another.

10)   Lastly, I mix in the rest of my percussion (hi-hats, shakers, claps, cymbal crash, etc.). You want the drums to carry the track as a whole but not be in the listener’s face. Make it subtle. The hi-hats are usually around -9  to -11 db. Cymbal crash at about -8 db. Honestly, at this point it’s about how you feel about the sound. If something stands out that you don’t like, turn it down a little bit. Boost other things that aren’t where you want them. Mixing is as much about creativity and skill as writing music in general, that’s why most musicians don’t mix and master their own tracks.

Here are some key tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t spend hours mixing your track. Spend about 30 minutes to an hour and walk away from it. Your ears naturally become used to what they’re hearing and you can no longer tell what sounds “right” and what doesn’t. Walk away from it for a few hours or the day and come back to it. You’ll notice right away that something doesn’t sound right and you will fix it.
  • When mixing, listen to one of your favourite songs and analyze how it’s mixed. Listen to individual instruments and see how loud they are then go and mix your track. You will naturally have a “sound profile” in your head of how things should sound based on something professional. Maybe your mix isn’t clear enough and needs some high-end equalization. Maybe your kick isn’t punching through as much as you thought it was. Listening to professionally produced tracks will give you that reference for comparison.
  • Listen to your track everywhere. Don’t just listen to it on your own speakers. Listen to it with ear buds, with headphones, in your car, at a friend’s place, etc. Your song will sound different depending on what you hear it on.

Some of these things might require you to do some research to better understand what the hell I’m talking about here. Once you figure it out though, it all makes sense. I promise!

synthr

March 15th, 2015

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