This is a brief introduction on a series, “Mixing / Mastering”. I’ll be sharing my visions so you can feel more conﬁdent improving your mixes and go deeper on your knowledge of the subject along the way.
Mixing may seem an overwhelming task (and it is an art form by itself) but it doesnʼt mean that you cannot learn a few principles along this series to get you conﬁdent in trying it yourself and practice on your own compositions. The same applies to a musician or a composer, itʼs great to have a degree, but in case you donʼt, youʼll still be able to compose or play and get better at it. Learn to use the tools needed for the job and tune you ears into it. I hope youʼll take great beneﬁt from the articles and they may give you extra ﬁnesse to your mixes.
In the mix youʼll have to recreate a sonorous stage, leveling the volume of the instruments, position in stereo ﬁeld and give them depth.
Mixing became a necessity when multitrack recorders made itʼs appearance on the second half of the twentieth century, allowing several tracks to be recorded at once or overdubbed. Then a mixing board was needed not only to track them ( ins and outs ) to the multitrack recorder but also to level whatʼs on tape to produce a master.
You have to be familiar with the routing of the signals both on a physical mixer or the one you have “in the box” (the DAW mixer) hence the need to understand the channel strip. It may seem daunting when you ﬁrst look at the mixer and see all those channels, have you ever thought “Iʼll never get that in my head”… well, that might be a little simpler than you think, forget “all those channels” for now, as the system itʼs modular, you have to learn only one channel as itʼs the same for every other track channels.
In ours DAWs the mixer may be presented in a different order depending on the one you have, ins, outs, aux sends, eq, knobs, solo & mute buttons and faders.
Working inside the DAW you can beneﬁt of record and recall all your moves from automation parameters, such volume, pan, effects, plug-ins and midi control data.
Hereʼs a couple of tips on the listening environment and gain staging:
Monitors are very important, get the best your budget allows, remember that a $2 computer speaker wonʼt translate your mix, go for near ﬁeld monitors, that allows you to work and mix at a close distance, youʼll ﬁnd plenty on the market. Position them at your ears level, rotate the monitors towards you making a (60º degree angle) an equilateral triangle.
Since the majority of our home studios doesn’t have proper isolation, mixing at low levels not only avoids too much room reﬂexions added to the direct sound but also prevent hearing fatigue that will reduce the time you can spend mixing with fresh ears.
However not so critical as in analog, itʼs wise to keep your master fader at unity gain (0 dB) and avoid to clip it at all times, making all the adjustments in the plugins youʼre using at the master if any, at instrument channel faders or instrument outs. That way you keep track of a clean signal without surprises.
Always leave a comfortable headroom for mastering! A good dynamic range is a key word in a good mix, loud doesnʼt mean better sounding! When adding a new plug-in, adjust the output level to peaking at the same value it had on the mix before you add it.
If you having a go for yourself, Multi band compression can be wisely used on the Master, when applied with moderation can be a great plus, avoid auto gain at all costs, as it can send the master fader signal to the roof (clipping) at least + 6dB on that move alone. Not to mention auto gain will send your precious mix down the drain. If limiter is you last plug-in in the chain, make sure to not clip its input ever. Also remember to use the most transparent limiter you can ﬁnd, usually the ones in our DAWs add some coloration, top plug-ins rule in mastering!
Hope youʼve ﬁnd some useful tips here, stay tuned for the next articles. Comments and other suggestions are welcome. Please donʼt forget to read Les Brockmann’s great mixing articles.
(Special thanks to Stellita Loukas for her support and coordination.)