As practice shows, all people who decided to dedicate themselves to such a noble and thankless task as music mixing, often face the same problems. So we’ll try to examine them in order to help those who think about opening their own cheap mixing and mastering.
So, you’ve bought a computer and built your first workstation, which includes all main components of a complete audio mixing studio: a recorder, a mixing console, an effects unit and a vocal chain (a microphone, a preamp and a compressor). Can you already start producing?
That’s where 99 percent of beginner sound engineers make their first mistake. They invest big money in a powerful computer, but they choose not to spend a lot on good monitoring and use home audio systems instead. It’s like a beginner artist putting on rose-colored glasses – everything will be beautiful, but very far from reality. That’s why at this point it’s very important to get a fairly decent monitoring. A good starting point for an mixing service will be Yamaha NS-10M with a built in amplifier.
If you are low on cash, you can buy studio headphones. If you work in a non-anechoic room with lots of furniture, it’s important to remember that nearfield speakers must be put at a one-meter distance from the listener. Make sure that there aren’t any non-anechoic parallel planes in the room, especially behind you. It’ll be better if you put a carpet on the floor and some fitted carpet on the back walls. This will make the room suitable for monitoring and allow you achieve sound quality similar to our examples of music mixing services work.
While setting up a sound studio, pay special attention to a vocal chain. It consists of a microphone, a preamp and a compressor. The microphone and the compressor should be preferably tube.
But don’t throw your money away buying an expensive 8-channel analog-digital converter like at pro mixing studios. You don’t need it if you use a computer and don’t record live drums. A 2-channel sound card is more than enough. When choosing a program, ignore the arguments about Logic sounding better than Cubase, but worse than Sonar or vice versa. If you are an arranger/sound engineer working with virtual samplers or synthesizers, you could pick Logic or Cubase. But if you record mostly “live” instruments, your best bet is Nuendo or Samplitude. Working with these DAWs exchanging project files with mixing rap vocals becomes very simple. Anyway, choose whatever is easy and comfortable for you to use.
And now – advice for the experienced
As you know, the process of creating a record includes three steps.
The first one is making an arrangement, performing and recording it. The next one is blending the recorded material and the final step is sound mastering. If we leave out the original text (musical or poetic), the most important and crucial step is definitely the first one, because that’s when the idea and sound of the future work is established. Success of the future record largely depends on the arranger’s plan, the performer’s energy and his feelings during performance. No matter how fantastic your favorite studio, it can never substitute skill, drive and everything that makes music that awakens your feelings different from a simply well mixed phonogram.
“We’ll fix it during mixing and everything will be fine”, – these kinds of thoughts are totally wrong. After editing and music mixing sound can become more or less “edible”, but if a performer didn’t add his emotions and energy to the record, they will never appear.
An experienced engineer will never start mixing unless he is satisfied with the recorded material. If you need your songs professionally prepared to commercial release please check my pricing for professional audio mixing mastering.
It’s important to remember that 90 percent of the track’s originality is established exactly during production - not on in a as someone might suppose. Making sound original is quite hard if you use free sample packs or download preset options for guitar processors. Try to experiment with the microphones’ positions and synthesizers’ settings, use layering – that’s the only way to make your sound distinctive. Experiment! Remember that any experiment is justified if it meets the task’s requirements.
There is one intermediate operation between the first and the second step. It’s editing the recorded material and most people have many expectations about it. Considering modern computer technologies available to any professional music mastering, everything is possible during editing. You can make off key and arrhythmic singing orderly and smooth. However, it’s impossible to add energy, individuality, charm and emotions. Go easy on the Antares Auto-Tune as it impersonalizes the performer. Editing should be minimal and natural. If possible, go back to step one and record a bad fragment again.
After all instrumental and vocal tracks are recorded, it’s time to deliver it to mixing studio.
Its two main sides are space and dynamics. Space means modeling the acoustic environment, where everything takes place: perspective and plans (just like in art). Dynamics mean development and form of the music piece. Any musical form has a rise, a climax and a drop, no matter how fancy they are.
What are the differences between a good record and a bad one? Any professional music mixer will name at least three things: transparency, density and spaciousness. Let’s try to figure out what these terms mean.
Transparency is intelligibility (audibility) of instruments and voices.
Density is intensity of the sound palette, the track’s “pump” and drive.
Spaciousness is width of the sound, the aerial perspective.
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Any single one of these qualities can be achieved easily. The problems begin when a client of the mixing service demands all these qualities to be present together. Of course, active using of reverberation, chorus, pitch shifter and other effects will lead to an increase in base width and space of the song. However, it also means that transparency and density will be lost. Too much space processing will cause sound to be incoherent and blurred. And if you remove spacing effects, you will improve instruments’ audibility with the expense of audio spaciousness.
These problems can only be solved as a whole. During mixing and mastering, you should imagine yourself both as an artist and as a sculptor. How does sculptor work? He takes a rock and cuts off extra parts. That’s exactly what an audio engineer should do when mixing a song. Let’s consider an example. You have two parts playing simultaneously: strings play the rhythm and the pad flows in the background. Strings’ audibility is usually determined by a frequency range of 2 to 4 kHz. In that case this part of spectrum has to be free of the pad (its part must be lower than 2 kHz).
Another example: higher part of spectrum is usually occupied by hats, shakers and other percussion instruments. When arrangers choose sounds, they usually follow their own taste, ignoring compatibility of instruments. In order to solve this problem, a mixing engineer needs to spread instruments all over the spectrum. For example, hi-hats should be lifted up to 6…8 kHz, the shaker should be lowered to 2…4 kHz and the tambourine will be great in the middle of them. All of the above applies to other instruments as well.
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There is a common mistake of placing instruments in the same tessitura, where they interfere with each other. Of course, you can spend a lot of time in the mixing & mastering electronic dance music (edm) shaping sound, but there are at least three ways to prevent this sort of situation:
- move one of the sounds to another octave
- change spectrum and dynamics for one of the instruments
- remove one of the instruments
The third way is preferable nine times out of ten.
Improving audibility of instruments and achieving record density is possible with the help of dynamics sound processing on mixing and mastering. For example, highlighting a guitar or synthesizer attack, you will preserve this instrument’s audibility without disturbing other parts. Step by step, analyzing and editing instruments one by one, you will achieve the necessary density and transparency of the record. This recommendation applies to almost all music genres - whether you are mixing EDM music or Hip-Hop.
Even beginner audio mixing and mastering music services engineers know how to achieve surround sound. However, the difficult part is to accomplish this without losing transparency and density of the record. In this case, you have to determine which parts and instruments are close to the listener and which ones are far; which instruments will sound widely and which ones will be point-like sources of sound. All these factors are a matter of taste, style knowledge and expertise. But let’s note some critical points. The level of reflected signal can’t be higher than the level of source sound (provided the source sound is directed towards the listener).
In order to put an object further, adding reverberation is not enough, you have to change its spectrum. The closer is the instrument, the richer it sounds and the further it is, the duller is its sound.
An object, which is far away can’t sound widely, because the further is an object, the closer to the point-like source it becomes.
Many things can be fixed during mixing but in that case your work will turn into correction of errors made during production. If performance is arranged and recorded correctly, mixing mastering won’t take much time.
And finally, mastering. There are lots of online mixing and mastering all over the world and some of them could blow your mind with the price and quality of their equipment (and of course, sound quality). Ordering album mastering in such a studio can cost you 15 thousand dollars and even more.
However, if previous stages were successful, the last one won’t be that hard. It usually comes down to normalizing sound level and record spectrum. That’s why you shouldn’t put off until mastering what can be done during mixing.
1. If you have a question whether to include a device (or a VST plug-in) in the chain, the answer is no.
2. If it’s possible to go back to a previous step of recording and fix the mistake, do it.
3. Don’t work at the same monitor volume during the final phase of mixing. Keep changing the volume, because your ear gets used to it and you don’t hear as well as you should.
4. No matter where you are (subway, road, yard or concert hall), analyze acoustic environment around you.
5. Compare your works with those of other experts.
6. Don’t be reserved, communicate with your colleagues and be open. A lot of useful information can be obtained in the Internet, just visit websites for sound engineers and musicians.
I’m sure that my colleagues and me can find a dozen of examples, which contradict with the points made in this article (it only proves they are right). Opinions and tips given by me shouldn’t be taken as gospel and can be used at the reader’s discretion. However, I’ll be glad if my thoughts will help somebody to solve his creative tasks. If you want me to polish your up coming projects please check prices for professional mastering and mixing online.