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4.1    Mixing:

First, I never track and mix anything the same day.  I generally print a quick rough mix the day I track, then step back from it for a while (few days).  I'll listen to the rough mix, one song at a time, and take detailed notes on what I feel the song needs during mixing.  This may include gain riding, panning, eq'ing, fx choice, compression, etc.  If this is a project for an outside band, you should also have them do the same, and explain their wishes to you.

When it's time to start building your mix from the tracks you've recorded, start with the bass drum, then mix in the bass guitar. Try not to boost the low end to try to make it solid. All you'll usually get is mud. If you want the bass drum way up front, boost the higher pitches of the kick and use the bass guitar for the deep lows. Use some compression. It's really helpful to A/B your track to a commercial CD to get a feel for the sound. The kick is especially good to listen to. Although it really drives the song, it still usually sits in the mix very well. Check the low end in the car and on your home stereo. Is the low end muddy at all? Even at (reasonably) high volumes or with the bass knob boosted, it should remain fairly clear. If not, consider a multi-band compressor rather than EQ.

Now add vocals (see vocal recording section in Chapter 3)... then the rest of the instruments in an order you feel is important.  Always keep in mind that vocals are the main part of the song, and they should be very clear.  Mixing them in early helps, so you can blend other instruments around the vocals, rather than the other way around.

To thicken up tracks that just don't seem as full as the others, try using a wide panned delay between 5 and 15 milliseconds. Pan the dry signal to one side and the delayed signal to the other side, and try to keep the levels pretty even. I use this on some bass and keyboards parts, because it helps to hide my lack of real talent on each instrument, plus adds a good deal of depth to a flat sounding track. I usually use both low and high pass filters to catch only the midrange...from about 300Hz to 3kHz or 5kHz. Adding the delay to the original track in mono is also effective sometimes, as it just thickens a bit. This works better with shorter delay times (around 5 ms).  Be forewarned:  When messing with delays like this, it's VERY easy to make a song that's not mono-compatible.  You should sum the dry and wet tracks in mono, to be sure there is no strange comb filtering effects.

All of your preliminary mixing should be done with no reverb.  Mix it dry, and add a splash to thicken and liven it up.  Be careful not to over-do it (unless that's an effect you desire).  Remember... adding reverb to an instrument makes it sound farther away

Also, if it's not a terribly complicated mix, you might try printing a couple versions of it. Most commonly, I run off one version that I think sounds right, one with a bit less vocal, and one with a bit more.  This allows you to sit back and listen to it later and determine which way it sounds best.  I like to wait a few days so it sounds "fresh" again.  If you're recording for bands other than your own, they'll feel more satisfied with the end result if they can choose the final mix.

4.2    Special Considerations for Mixing and Preparing for Mastering:

There are a few objectives to consider when mixing a song in preparation for mastering. You want a well balanced good performance. EQ and compression should be used minimally. Just smooth out the tracks that need it, but be subtle. You shouldn't use a limiter, or compress the whole mix. Try to get rid of silibance before mixing with pop filters, changing mics, positions, etc, or with a de-esser (or compressor w/ sidechain + EQ). A little bass roll-off on the vocals allow it to sit better with the bass. Also avoid aural exciters. They're fine for playback or revitalizing an old tape, but not for a pre-mastering step. When panning the instruments in the mix, keep your vocals bass guitar, bass drum, and snare in or near the center. The rest of the instruments should be sonically balanced around the center. Make sure you pay particular attention to the higher frequencies in the mix. It's pretty noticeable if they're off balance. For a good example, a bright clean guitar sits well opposite the hi-hat. Listen to how the bass guitar and drum fit together. Don't over do it.

Most home studios will probably be sending DAT tapes for mastering. It's a very common format, and the hardware is very reliable. Call the mastering engineer, and ask him/her what levels they prefer. Some like the levels a little low (peaks at -3 dB). Remember that digital signals clip horribly and should never be allowed to exceed 0 dB. Even minor clips will make the signal sound grainy. If you're sending your mix on analog tape, it's possible to run it a little hot, although you should still ask the engineer. Peaking at +3 dB can add just a little color.

4.3       Mixers and Signal Routing:

The time will come when it's time to buy a new mixer.  You could be upgrading from a Portastudio, or just getting a larger format board.  A mixer is a pretty daunting piece of gear... they will often have several hundred different knobs, switches and faders.  I'll make an attempt to go over some of the more important terms so you're not overwhelmed.  As a general rule, there are 3 sections on a small mixer.  There's channel strips, subgroups, and the return and monitoring section.  

Channel Strips:  

This is the heart of the mixer.  Generally the left hand side of the board (about 75% of the mixer, actually) is made up of the channel strips.  If you have a 16 channel mixer, you'll obviously have no more than 16 channel strips.  They may be either mono or stereo, dependening on the layout of the board.  My mixer is a 14 channel model with a total of 12 channel strips.  There's 10 mono and 2 stereo inputs, for a total of 14.  They are usually a vertical column of controls that will consist of all or some of the following features:  

The first portion of the channel is the input jack.  They will have a 1/4" jack and/or an XLR.  The 1/4" jacks are for high impedence devices like keyboards, or other line level devices.  The XLR jacks will be used primarily for low impedence sources like microphones.  

Generally right at the top of the channel strip is your gain or trim control.  This is to properly set the input level for your signal.  There may also be other controls like a phase reverse, or low frequency roll off.  These two controls help make the input more flexible by allowing you to invert phase, or to cut out muddy low end in the signal.  There may also be a phantom power switch to turn on 48V power to run condenser microphones.  This combination of the input, gain control, low frequency roll off, phantom power and phase reversal all make up the mic preamp section of the channel strip.

Often, there is an EQ section directly following the mic preamp.  The type of EQ varies from mixer to mixer, but may be parametric or have a fixed frequency.  Most budget mixers seem to have a 3 band EQ with a sweepable mid frequency control.  Some higher end boards may have 4 bands with 2 sweepable mids, and they will often have an EQ bypass switch.   This switch allows you to take the EQ circuit out of the signal path when you're not using it.  This helps maintain a better sounding signal by eliminating unnecessary electronics.

Directly after rhe EQ is usually your Aux sends or Effects sends.  You use these to send a signal to an outboard effects unit.  There will be aux outputs on the back of the mixer to connect to the effects unit.  The higher you turn up the corresponding send, the more signal gets sent to the output.  You use these sends to allow you to send more than one signal to an effects unit.  You may send from as many channels as you want, and the signals will be mixed an sent to the effects unit.    

Some of your aux sends may be labelled prefader.  What this means is the signal is sent to the fx unit at the same volume, regardless of the fader's position.  With a postfader send, lowering the level on the channel's fader will also lower the level going to the aux send.

After the aux section is the subgroup assignment switches.  These switches are used to decide how you want your mix routed through the boards subgroup busses.  I'll go more into the purpose of subroups a little later.  Usually on a 4 buss mixer there will be one switch to select either groups 1+2 or groups 3+4.  By using the pan control, you can direct exactly where you would like the signal routed.  For example:  on channel 7 you have a guitar track.  You select subroups 1+2 on the assign buttons. You then pan the signal hard right, and it will show up entirely on subgroup 2.  If you pan it hard left, it will appear only on group 1.  An obviously, you may pan it anywhere between the extremes to split the signal in any amount to each side.  

The last portion of the channel strip is the fader.  Thsi is the amount of signal that gets sent to the subgroup(s) the channel is assigned and panned to.  Generally a fader's unity gain position is labelled 0dB, and is approximately 3/4 of the way to the top.  You generally place the fader here before setting the input gain.  You will then have a little bit of room to boost a signal when mixing, and you're also not running too loud and distorting the signal.  Beside the fader are often two more switches.  These are your mute and solo controls.

Subgroups:

First, we'll need to define a subgroup.  Your mixer has a stereo output for your mix; this is often called the 2 track buss, or mix buss.  Each channel strip eventually gets summed together and put on the mix buss where it gets routed to your monitors and your mixdown deck.  Between the channel strips and the mix buss is often a collection of subgroups.  These subgroups are a way to organize your sounds into logical groupings for further processing.  a 16x4x2 mixer has 16 channels, 4 subgroups and a 2 track maix buss.  

Subgroups are useful for combining tracks that belong together.  Maybe use subroups 1+2 as a stereo mix of all of your drums, and 3+4 can be the remainder of the mix.  Now if you wish to turn down all of the drum tracks at once, you can simply use the faders for groups 1+2 rather than turning down the 4 or more channels you may be using on your drums.  Likewise, you may also group all background vocals onto a subgroup so they may be processed together as a whole.

Returns and Monitoring:

Most small format mixers have a few inputs that are labelled Effects Returns or simply Returns.  Depending on the manufacturer, there may be stereo or mono returns, or a combination of both.  The Spirit mixer that I own has 4 stereo returns.  Generally speaking, returns accept only a line level input, and they generally don't have EQ.   They're quite useful, nonetheless, because they allow you to connect your effects boxes to your mixer without using up your normal channel strips.  A typical Return willhave volume and panning controls, and may also have more effects sends (so you can cascade your signal through several effects).

The monitoring section of the board is essentially the master volume for the entire mixer.  There are generally levels for the mix going to your 2 track mixdown deck, as well as a level control for the control room monitors, and perhaps a third set for your headphone level.   There are usually monitor assignment switches that allow you to decide exactly what you'd like to listen to.  On my mixer, I can select pairs of groups (I may listen to only groups 1/2, or only groups 3/4, or both).  I may also select to listen only to my effects returns, or perhaps only to the 2 track return from my mixdown deck.

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