Clean up the bass area
In fact, the Low End area of the final track often requires cleaning with the mid/side EQ, whether we are dealing with a rock song or trance music. Keep in mind that human ear badly perceives the spatial position of the bass sounds, so if there’s any bass content in the side channel, the overall sound of the track will seem blurred. That’s why one of the first actions performed by many engineers during mixing kick drum is applying mid/side equalization in order to cut unwanted frequencies in the low end. On top of that, it helps the bass to occupy a distinct central position, so it becomes audible in the dense mix. You can find the recommended values for this task, but I don’t support such an approach, as my decision is always influenced by the specific track I’m working with.
Compression and width
Of course, mixing engineer isn’t exactly a wizard’s lab that can turn a bleak mix into a masterpiece, so the sound width should be achieved initially. However, occasionally this aspect requires some interference. For example, you can make the sound a little wider with the help of a mid/side processing by selecting compression and output level parameters for the mid and side channels. If you densify and lift the side channel level, the stereo component of the song will become more audible and the subjective width of the track will increase a little. For more details please have a listen examples of mixing mastering. To reverse the process (yes, sometimes it’s necessary) you have to focus on compressing the mid channel. However, a studio engineer should be very careful with such processing; otherwise, the main components (such as bass and vocal) can become overcompressed.
Keep control of the drums
Mistakes in balancing the drums (which are mostly typical for kick drums) can also be fixed by compression at mixing songs online. If the sound of drums breaks out of the main song pattern, then compression with a short attack will push it back a little (in this case the release time is adjusted depending on the situation and can be both fast and slow). And again, the reverse process is possible if there’s not enough kick in the mix. In this case, the compressor is adjusted to maintain a long attack time, so the snap (the peak part of the bass drum) isn’t affected by the compression. Mixing studios often use multiband compressors for fine-tuning the parameters. They help to apply compression to a certain frequency range, without influencing the neighboring ones.
Leave a margin
Always, I repeat, always leave a margin of at least 0,2dB (I prefer even 0,3dB) at the maximizer/limiter output. This rule becomes especially important if you are planning to convert the finalized song into an mp3 file (and nowadays it happens very often). This will prevent clipping of the final track. All of the EKmixmaster mixing studio demos are made so. This is particularly true for most of the electronic dance music genres, where fat sub bass and kick sound are prevalent. During mp3 conversion, if the headroom is small, these components will inevitably cause clipping. Such styles as trance and EDM require a larger volume margin on the master bus (up to 1,3-1,5 dB). Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with the criticism of unsatisfied clients, as they will be irritated by the horrible quality of the sound full of distortions.
One isn’t enough
Most of the engineers know that dynamic processing is less perceptible if you apply it in several steps. In that case, every next processor will apply a bit more compression to the sound processed during the previous step. Same goes for the volume maximization. For example, if you need to increase the song volume by 3 dB, don’t use a single limiter with 3 dB gain reduction. Instead, apply two successive limiters, each of which adds only 1,5dB. Such mastering makes the track sound subjectively louder, clearer and a lot punchier.
Who is to blame?
For decades, there was a misconception that loud songs are the result of the track finalization alone. No and no! If a progressive house song, which was given to the music mastering service, is literally falling apart during maximization to the volume level of commercial tracks, then the problem is definitely in the mix, so you should fix it in the first place. Sometimes, the problem can even be in the arrangement itself (this topic was covered in detail in the series of articles devoted to the EDM music processing).
This is true both for equalization of particular sounds and for equalization of the full track. Before you load a song with brightness by lifting the top end, you should probably apply a low cut filter in sub lows first. By cutting the unwanted sub component, engineer will also prevent the distortions of the track when the volume is increased by a limiter.
After all changes are made, it’s time to use dithering as a finishing touch. A small amount of inter-sample noise, which is introduced by the dither, will help to perform a more precise conversion of the track into the CD standard (16-bit WAV).
Right EQ for the kick
It’s not the best idea to boost the kick by using shelving EQ during mixing trap music. Together with the bass drum boost, this equalization type will also lift a lot of sub low frequency bass part harmonics of the mix, which will only add blur to the overall sound. Use only bell EQ to enhance the kick on mastering. But first, make sure that there is enough space for it in the bass stem. If necessary, clear it with a sidechain technique and EQ, maybe it will be enough to process just this part in order to get a well audible kick.
Vocal to the foreground
Engineers often apply the following processing: they carefully lift the high mid frequency area with the mid/side EQ in the mid channel providing mastering services. This improves the vocal audibility in the mix. Depending on the vocalist’s voice tone, search in the 2-3 kHz area.
Quantity isn’t always quality
Be careful with the sound and don’t apply any processing without a well-considered plan simply because nowadays any studio is able to use a great number of top-level plugins. All these compressors/equalizers surely look great, but they are not the key for your mixing services success since they don’t make the sound ideal by themselves. It’s often enough to maintain a right balance and panorama, and the space of the song will become great without any additional effects. Besides, if the master bus of your DAW already contains a dozen of processors, but the song quality is still depressing, then you should take a step back and work with the mix in the first place. Remember that a quality sound of commercial tracks is achieved in several steps, each of which is equally important - you can check some it our mixing services examples. The principle “we’ll fix it later” isn’t going to work here.