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15th October 2014 James Bates

Productions and mix write up
In this write up, i’m going to explain some of the mixing
processes I went through, and some of the problems i had
to overcome whilst mixing the live recording, and producing
my two midi productions.
The first thing I did to the live mix was go about clearly
labelling all of the elements of the mix. I have also got into
the habit of getting into a strict colour scheme which i abide
by with all of my productions & mixes. This way i can easily
look at a logic session and instantly tell what is what,
without having to scan through lots of tracks. This is how
my colour scheme usually goes:
Drums; Red
Bass: yellow
Real instruments (piano’s guitars strings etc.): Green
Synths/ electronic instruments: Light green
Effects (white noise sweeps general sound effects): Pink
Lead vocals: Dark orange
Background vocals: Lighter shade of orange.
With regards to drums, I tend to have a lot of drum tracks
so i like to arrange them the same way, so I know where
every drum is quickly in the logic session:
It starts from top to bottom (if all these elements are
included in the production):
kicks
808’s
snare’s
claps
snaps
toms
hats
cymbals/ overheads
room microphones
percussion loops (tambourines shakers etc). Or strange
non distinguishable drum sounds.
This way I know exactly what is on a specific track by
looking at where it is in comparison to the other tracks in
the logic session. I also colour code the mixer, as it also
improves workflow speed. The shortcut to open the colour
palate is “alt-C”.
This is what a typical colour coded logic session would look
like:
Now that everything has been colour coded correctly, I can
now navigate my way around logic much faster, so once all
the prep work like this has been completed, the overall
mixing process will be a lot faster and smoother. Especially
if there’s a high track count.
The next thing i’ll do is assign everything to a bus.
Busses can be fitted into your workflow in two ways;
You can either send part of the audio to a bus such as a
reverb bus or a parallel compression bus. This can be
achieved using the sends underneath the inserts on the
channel strip. This is a great way to work as it means you
can be very efficient when it comes to computer processing.
For example; If you want to send all of the vocals to a reverb,
instead of putting a reverb plugin on every single track, you can
put 1 plugin on a bus and send all of the channels which need
reverb to the reverb bus. This saves a lot of processing power.
It’s also handy for using parallel compression as you can have
a parallel snare channel for example; You can send the snare
drum to a bus which you can heavily compress, and then blend
the dry snare in with the heavily compressed snare, to get a
punchy in your face snare, without the noticeable artefacts of
the heavy compression.
Another way to use busses is by actually sending tracks to
them. I usually use 4 main busses which all feed into my
master fader. I have a drum bus, a bass bus, a music bus, and
a vocal bus. This means i can Eq and compress all the drums
as a whole, this not only saves time when getting a drum sound
quickly, it also lets you glue the kit together with general
compression over all of the microphones. You may have a great
sound from the individual microphones, but when you hear
them as a whole there’s a bit too much low mid mud overall. It’s
a lot easier to do a nice wide cut at around 400hz over the
drum bus, as a whole as opposed to EQing all of the individual
drum tracks. This same thing can be applied to all of the
busses. I Love to glue all of the music together with a nice
subtle compressor. This is what my busses tend to look like:
This is a very simple starting point for how i set up the busses. I
have basic eq and compressors on each bus, with a
compressor on the master fader, none of the compressors on
the busses are working very hard, as most of the compression
happens on the individual tracks. There’s simple subtractive Eq
on all of the busses to correct any tame any peaks which are
apparent when all the tracks are playing as a whole.
With regards to the master fader i mix through a compressor
with a 2 -1 ratio and a very slow attack, which lets the
transients through, and a release which is in time with the track.
This compressor really helps glue all of the busses together.
I do a little bit of mastering EQ on the master fader once i’ve
completed the mix process, this is usually very subtle though. I
also apply a limiter to the mix after it’s been mixed. This
reduces the dynamic range of the mix, and clamps down on
any transients which cross the threshold, therefore allowing the
overall of the volume of the mix to be more competitive
compared to professional releases. When working with busses,
less is always more and i don’t like to do too much of work on
busses, as you shouldn’t have to if the individual tracks have
been mixed well.
I see the busses as a way of sweetening the mix with subtle eq
and compression moves to really make the track come to life!
Once i’ve sorted out which busses the tracks are being sent to,
I like to get an overall static mix (a mix without automation). A
large percentage of work on a mix is simply getting the volume
of everything correct and balanced. Once everything is
balanced the track sounds a lot better!
Due to the rules of this piece of coursework, we are forbidden
from using any form of volume automation, so I had to think of
a way around this. instead of using conventional automation, I
used the ‘change gain’ feature which is built into logic. The
‘change gain’ feature is handy as it enables you to turn a
specific piece of audio up or down. It also does this before any
eq and compression. For example: If there’s a vocal and the
compressor is working fine for the most part, but then there’s a
big peak in the waveform. The compressor will clamp down on
this peak causing the compression to be clearly heard and not
at all transparent. With the ‘change gain’ feature, I can turn
down these peaks before they reach the compressor, stopping
the compressor from reacting this way, and turning down the
track. ‘Change gain’ is just as effective as automation and i’ve
used it throughout the live mix in order to turn tracks up or
down in places without having to use automation.
Here’s how the change gain feature works:
First, you need to separate the audio region in which you want
to adjust the gain. You can do this by cutting it with the scissors
tool (Esc - 5) or by highlighting it with the ‘marquee’ tool (which
is set by default as the ‘Cmd’ key.)
Once the regions which you wish to change the gain of have
been separated from the rest of the audio file. You need to
select it, then head to the top of the inspector bar, and click in
the blank box next to the word ‘gain’:
You can then type in how many decibels you wish to turn up or
down the vocal by. This is a way in which i overcome the
problem of being forbidden to use automation. Another more
tedious way in which to overcome this issue is by having
multiple tracks for parts which you wish to turn down with a
different volume. This is quite a confusing process visually and
is also quite taxing on your computers processor power to
unnecessarily have a few tracks for one track, each with
plugins on.
Once I’ve got an overall balance of all the tracks which i’m
happy with. I’ll take a good listen to the mix and listen for
anything sonically which i don’t like. I don’t usually do anything
by default mixing wise as everything has to be approached
differently. No two snare drums sound the same, or no two
vocals sound the same. everything has to be eq’d differently,!
However, one thing i tend to do on every mix is to “high pass
filter” everything.
Most instruments in a mix have no useful information in them
below around 100hz or so. I solo each track and high pass filter
to the point where the sound starts to become thin in the
bottom end, I then back it off slightly. The only two tracks which
i’m more careful with high pass filtering are the bass and the
kick drum. I usually high pass the kick up to around 40hz, as
below that is just useless rumble, same with the bass. This is
what a typical high pass filter looks like for most of my tracks.
(Which aren’t the bass and the kick):
High pass filtering everything cleans up the mix dramatically.
Once everything is free of the useless mud which it doesn’t
need in a mix there’s more space in the bottom end for the
bass guitar and the kick to live, as they are the only two
instruments which live that low in the mix. This means you’ve
now only got two sounds competing for space in the low end as
opposed to the entire mix! The bass and the kick can have
individual spots in the low end to live however. I usually like to
find a spot in the kick at around 60-100hz to let it poke through,
and a spot at around 120hz in the bass to let it live. This way
these two aren’t fighting for space.
High pass filtering also gives more headroom in the mix, you
may look at a meter and see that there’s a larger than life peak
in the kick, this may be because there’s a sub frequency which
the speakers can’t produce which is clipping the meter. This
can be rectified by high passing the kick, it also means that
when it’s played through a big system there won’t be loads of
extreme low end shaking the floor too much, it’s be tighter and
more controlled.
High pass filtering is one rule of thumb I usually do in every
mix. Another thing I find myself doing on most mixes is dealing
with the low mid mud. I hate generalising when it comes to
mixing as you can’t decide how your going to EQ something
until you’ve heard it. But generally there’s always too much
mud in the low mids! What i tend to do is boost the eq and scan
around the low midrange to hunt this boxy muddy frequency,
you’ll know when you’ve found it, as it’ll sound awful. I then
bring this frequency back a few decibels. It really helps make a
track shine! People may hear a vocal and think that it needs
more high end, when in fact that’s far from the case… The
sound may simply have way too much low mid boxy /
muddiness which is masking all of the high end and low end!
So when you cut that the highs and lows then come through
more. With mixing it’s generally best to find the frequencies
which you don’t like and cut them. As opposed to boosting the
frequencies which you do like. Here’s what a typical vocal EQ
looks like:
With this vocal there’s only a subtle boost in the high end above
the sibilance region to get some more air into the vocals. The
low mid can be split into two area’s: (around 180- 300hz, ) This
is the boomy region which tends to sound really tacky if there’s
too much of it. Then there’s the muddy boxy region which lives
somewhere between 300 and 600hz: It just needs to be found
and usually cut. With cheaper microphones there’s a tendency
for vocals to be harsh in the upper midrange (between 2 and
3k)I tend to cut here with an EQ too. This is the area which is
extremely harsh and takes your head off if played loud. This
frequency range can’t be cut too much from a vocal as it’s also
the area where the life of a vocal lives and is the exact spot
where a vocal cuts through the mix most, it usually needs
taming as most times! i’d happily prefer a less upfront vocal as
opposed to a vocal which makes you deaf when played loud.
As with all things mixing, all vocals need treating differently so
these guidelines are quite general. I then like to boost the very
high end, depending on if the vocal needs some more air, this
region lives above the sibilance region (around 8khz), it can
really bring a vocal to life! This is exactly what I did on the mix
of the live recording.
The last example was suited to vocals, but I go about EQing all
the elements of a mix are in need of EQ. After everything is
EQ’d and sonically everything has a space in the frequency
spectrum to live. I start with the 2nd most important tool of
mixing; compression.
Compression is usually harder to comprehend than Eq and it’s
usually harder to hear. Compression is basically automatic
volume control, you set a threshold and as soon as the signal
passes that threshold it’s turned down, depending on how
aggressive the ratio of the compressor is. (a compressor with a
20;1 ratio or higher is seen as a limiter) I use compression on
vocals in order to reduce the dynamic range of the vocal and
get it to the front of the mix.
A singer will vary in volume dramatically, they also may get too
close or too far from the mic in certain places varying the
volume even more. A simple compressor can keep this in check
by reducing the difference in volume between the loudest
peaks and the quietest sections therefore allowing you to sit the
vocal in the mix easier, as nothing will get lost as much or jump
out too much. This means there’s less need to automate the
volume as most of the volume control will be dealt with by the
compressor.
With vocals I like to have around a 3:1 ratio, as i don’t want the
compression to be too aggressive as the vocal is the main part
in the mix. I don’t want all of the life sucked out of the vocal with
an extremely high ratio. I Like to keep the front end of the signal
when i compress (the transient) as without them music looses
it’s punch and attack. So i like to use compressors with a slow
attack in order to let the peak through. This means that the
compressor starts turning down after the peak. This keeps the
life by keeping that peak but compresses the rest of the sound.
for vocals this is the best way to go as it sounds most natural
and keeps the vocals from sounding too lifeless whilst
controlling the dynamics. I don’t like to compress vocals too
much, maybe about 6 decibels of compression at most.
I always apply make up gain after the compression, so i can
compare with and without the compressor without hearing
drastic volume differences. Once the compression has been
applied you’ll notice that the vocals will sit a lot better in the mix
with minimal volume automation. This is the compression
setting i used for the live recording vocal:

Once I’ve Eq’d and compressed the elements of the mix which
require it, the mix is almost there. It just needs some
sweetening in the way of reverbs and delays.
I like to send everything on a bus to a main global reverb, this is
usually a small reverb. I then blend this bus in and it glues the
mix together and gives it a vibe. When mixing reverbs it’s easy
to over do it, but when balancing it in i think to myself: Can i
hear it? if the answer is simply, “yes” then the reverb is too
loud. If it’s “no” then it’s not loud enough. But if you have to
listen and then you can just make out the reverb then it’s
around the right volume. Effects like reverb can easily be
overdone! For the reverb on the live recording I used the plugin
“gold verb” it’s a great sounding reverb. i used quite a small
room. Here’s the reverb which I used for that mix:
After the reverb I used an EQ to filter out the high and low
frequencies from the reverb so it was less obtrusive and
obvious.
After i’d completed all of these processes, I had a good listen
over to everything, made a few subtle compression and eq
tweaks here and there, and eventually I was happy with the
finished product. Bare in mind it was a very poor quality
recording from at a most a poor band.
I am however happy with the mix sonically.
This write up goes over some of the problems and processes
which i had to go through whilst mixing the live recording.
By James Bates Wednesday 15th October 2014