Mixdown Tips

miszt

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#1
[note about some links in this post: the forum adds adverts to posts, any links to products below are not my recomendations, but automatically added, so please dont go buying stuff thinking its a recomendation, if i recomend a piece of hardware, i'll say it explicitly]

This gets asked allot, so I thought I'd post up a thread dedicated to it, if you have something to add post it up and i'll update this post...

Before you start your mixdown (if you do it seperatly to arrangement), its important that you have EQ'd properly, thats the number 1 issue I hear in most of what I hear, just one or two bad resonant points can screw the mixdown , mainly because we try to compensate by making things to loud in the mix. Heres a few things you should watch out for...

Snare Crossover - most people know to be careful of kick crossover, but snare crossover is just as important, not just on the bass, but all your other sounds aswell, i think its one of the most common reasons for snares being to loud in the mix

Kick, Bass Crossover - even if you have high-passed a pad at 150hz, it might be throwing out more volume @ 150hz than you realize, same with stabs or any other sound in the mix. dont just rely on side-chain compression to give your kicks space

Notch EQ is a really good way of learning how your sounds interact with each other, its worth spending time sweeping thru the freqz of every individual sound in the mix to see whats going on, after a while it will be instinctive and you will have less and less eq to do


Mixdown Refrences

If you can, give your ears a break before starting your mixdown, it takes about 20-30mins for your ears to adjust

Start mixing down at Very Low Volume, loud enough for you to clearly hear the sounds, but not booming out at all, your ears will get tired and your mixdown will suffer

There are a couple of really quick ways to check your mixdown, its important you get as many refrences as possible, on as many diffrent speakers as you can get your hands on...(all of this will become instinctive aswell as you practise)

Mono Master output - quick and nasty way to show up imbalances in your mixdown, things that are to loud will stick out a long way. Mono will also show up any phase problems you have in your bass

Headphone check - headphones are a great refrence tool, have a quick listen to your track on your headphones aswell

Laptop speaker check - someone recomended this on another forum, i dont do it myself, but the more refrences you can get, the better. the lack of Low end of laptop speakers will probly help you hear how well everything is sitting

Car, HiFi, mini speaker stereos, etc - another great way to show up problems in a dodgy mixdown



The Mixdown

By now you probly have a fair idea of whats wrong in your mixdown, or at least you know somethings not quite right (unless it is, then woo! you can stop reading)

First Step - Set all your channels to -Inf volume. Be careful if you are using sends or FX routing which will change significantly because of this, for Eg Side-Chain Compression, take a note of anything that will mess up so you can adjust it to correct it

Second Step - Bring in your base break and make sure it sounds tight and big

I also recommend peaking a kick drum at -15dBFS at the start of the mix and [switch off any limiter or compression you have on the master].
Build a mix round the kick peaking at this level and you will be in good shape for "self finalizing" or
professional mastering. (work at 24 bit resolution).
Third Step - Bring in your bass, make sure it all fits together perfectly, ensure all of the sound is clear from top to bottom, careful that the sub isnt overpowering the rest of the mix, or getting lost into the mix, it should be pumping along nicely with the kick. if you find that your snare seems to jump out of the mix with tiny volume changes, then most likley you have some EQ to do on the bass.

Fourth Step - add the rest of your sounds, one at a time, do it gently, and keep things balanced, close your eyes and get a feel for the soundscape, every single sound should be clear, if its not, have a look thru the rest of the mix and very gently tweek your channels, trust your ears. Ensure your precussion and Bass are still pumping nicely with every sound you add

Fifth Step - stop the music, rewind to the begining, make a cup of tea, turn it up (not to much), sit back and listen...as a listener, not a producer, dont tweek anything, just listen till the end...if anything needs tweeking then go back to step 4, remeber to turn the volume down again

By now hopefully your mixdown is sounding better, nothing is clipping, bass and precussion are sitting tight and your synths and soundscape are bouncing around just right. Get more refrences from diffrent speakers for a last check, dont worry if you find yourself constantly going back to the mixdown to tweek, it takes practise, but the more refrences you take, the faster your brain will learn to pick up on the problems.

Take regular breaks, do a draft mixdown, then come back to it after a few hours, or 24hours if you can stay away that long, at least sleep on it, tired ears become more and more useless as the hours ware on

Once you feel your mixdown is as close as you can get it, you may want to add a touch of compression to your master output, this will help bring out the details, all those wobbles and bends will really come to life, a ratio of 1:3 will probly do, bring the threshold down slightly until it starts to flicker, make sure there it doesnt add any distortion espcially to the bass. If you want to add limiting, bring the volume on the compression down a few db, then add a Limiter, turn the volume up on your amp/speakers (so you dont suffer from louder is better syndrome which often leads to massivly over-limited/compressed music), then slowly adjust the threshold of the Limiter, max 0.5db at a time, adjust it to taste, but remeber the more you limit, the more dynamics you loose, and louder isnt always better :) a flicker of limiting is more than enough most of the time imo

Eventually all this stuff will happen naturally as part of your arrangement process, the steps above are just to get you started so you can see whats going on and how things interact with each other and cause imbalances


Hope that was useful :)
 
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SafeandSound

Mastering Engineer
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#2
Nice tips, I also recommend peaking a kick drum at -15dBFS at the start of the mix and try mixing without a limiter.
Build a mix round the kick peaking at this level and you will be in good shape for "self finalizing" or
professional mastering. (work at 24 bit resolution).

Also a day in between for tweaks usually bears fruit when your ears are fatigued.

Very comprehensive !
 

miszt

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#3
Nice tips, I also recommend peaking a kick drum at -15dBFS at the start of the mix and try mixing without a limiter.
Build a mix round the kick peaking at this level and you will be in good shape for "self finalizing" or
professional mastering. (work at 24 bit resolution).

Also a day in between for tweaks usually bears fruit when your ears are fatigued.

Very comprehensive !
definitly! i'd say never mixdown with a limiter, will add ur comments in!
 
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#4
can someone explain the point of having your kick peak at -15db? isn't the point to get everything as close to 0 while still retaining clarity and good volume between all elements in your song?
 

miszt

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#5
can someone explain the point of having your kick peak at -15db? isn't the point to get everything as close to 0 while still retaining clarity and good volume between all elements in your song?
yes and no, there isnt a right answer to that, some people favour dynamic range over modern limiting standards, either way, if you are going to get your track mastered, they will want at least 6db headroom to work with. You also need the headroom for mixdown, if you set your kick to 0db, your master output will clip pretty quickly once you start adding other things in
 
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#6
can someone explain the point of having your kick peak at -15db? isn't the point to get everything as close to 0 while still retaining clarity and good volume between all elements in your song?

I believe your channel faders act like pre amps.the higher you push your channel faders more preamplification is occurring in individual channels and squashing the dynamics, taking up more room between the individual elements of your tune and seeming to be more cluttered. If you mix this way and put a hard limiter on your master fader it basically acts as a crude form of compression and the less space and dynamics your music will have. It's probably ok if that's the sound you're going for. if you were making very basic music with 4 or 5 channels it would be less important.
 

subprime

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#7
can someone explain the point of having your kick peak at -15db? isn't the point to get everything as close to 0 while still retaining clarity and good volume between all elements in your song?
The point is to get a balanced sound. You can always amplify or gain the final mix to get more volume.

I saw an analogy about a chest of draws. If you are trying to fit everything into a chest of draws that are already full (cos your kick is taking up too much room) you'll end up with a headache and a big mess. You'll have to really squash everything else to make it fit. If your first thing (kick) is neatly folded and in it's place you've got room for everything else.

That's not how it went really but that's how I remember it lol.

(I still naturally tend to try and mix close to zero and I really struggle to get them right)
 
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#11
I have a dumb question:

If you have say a reese and a basic kick-snare going on, and you've leveled them according to that, but then have a quick vocal of someone shouting "HEY" or something come in 8 bars in, can you duck the reese and drums just for that tiny instance? Like a quick sidechain, except only for that one second worth of sample in the whole song. Is that 'allowed'/recommended? Or should you adjust the levels as if that sample were going to be constantly present?
 

Phat_Sam

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#12
I have a dumb question:

If you have say a reese and a basic kick-snare going on, and you've leveled them according to that, but then have a quick vocal of someone shouting "HEY" or something come in 8 bars in, can you duck the reese and drums just for that tiny instance? Like a quick sidechain, except only for that one second worth of sample in the whole song. Is that 'allowed'/recommended? Or should you adjust the levels as if that sample were going to be constantly present?
Get rid of the low end of the sample. Cut out everything from around 200hz/250hz and below. Should stop the frequencies clashing!
 
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#14
nice tips john,

---------- Post added at 15:35 ---------- Previous post was at 15:32 ----------

i meant to also say, alot of new producers think you have to rely on sidechaining, parrallel compression, etc etc, when really you should get to grips with basic eq and listening skills, once your mixdowns are sounding good, then you can creatively use harder techniques..
 

sam the dnb man

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#16
nice tips john,

---------- Post added at 15:35 ---------- Previous post was at 15:32 ----------

i meant to also say, alot of new producers think you have to rely on sidechaining, parrallel compression, etc etc, when really you should get to grips with basic eq and listening skills, once your mixdowns are sounding good, then you can creatively use harder techniques..
Are you sure mate? A lot of people I speak to don't have a clue what parallel compression is lol. I'd actually say that EQing correctly is more challenging than sidechaining.


One way of ensuring that you never overload your mix is to try and keep your master output at -6DB. This is also helpful for master engineers as it leaves them some headroom to work their magic.

Routing elements such as drums to busses is an invaluable tool to help manage your mix. You can change the volume or characteristics of a section on one channel strip instead of having to load multiple reverbs, eqs ect on multiple channel strips. This enables you to do stem mixing.
 

SafeandSound

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#17
Here is the technical reasoning behind the -15dBFS (or thereabouts) kick/snare peak reference.

In essence it builds in headroom on your master out, cleans up your monitoring a little as the level is lower
for the opamps in the sound card. They are not driven as hard and also gets it spot on for mastering or self finalizing. Budget opamps like 5532 or 4580's running off a USB2.0 line a 5.0 Volts is a worst case situation. they run out of headroom a little before their design operating maxima.

http://bgardner.wrytestuff.com/swa718584-Gain-Structure.htm

Of course if you are more experienced you can break the rules and aim a bit higher but the goal is avoiding
"overs" and retaining headroom.

cheers

SafeandSound Mastering
SAS mastering - dance music
 
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CH3SH

CH3SH - Naphalm Audio
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#20
Some good tips and interesting start points with considerations to mixdowns,
As with parallel compression, try gating heavy compression to your main drums ;]
Also with regards to mixing down you can use group tracks to your advantage
For instance one group track could consist of your main kick and snare which would be strapped in at 0db,
But you could quite easily mix the group down to -15db
 
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