You are on page 1of 126
C TE THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO IN ABLETON LIVE UT FUNDAMENTALS & MIX PREPARATION ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE COPYRIGHT NOTICE This eBook has been electronically stamped with your purchase details to prevent copyright infringement. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the email address below. info@abletonbible.com www. abletonbible.com THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE FOREWORD Firstly, thank you for purchasing the first book in our Ableton Live mix series. This set of eBooks aim to cover every aspect of the mix process in Ableton Live. We have designed this book to be used as a practical reference guide during the mix-down of a track. We recommend reading this book cover to cover first, to gain a basic understanding of all of the subjects covered. We have included summary pages at the end of each section, which bullet point any key principles covered. These summary pages can be used as a quick and easy reference to jog our memory whilst we are mixing a track. Produced by Ableton Bible Edited by Dan Exert For free Ableton presets, racks and samples, Visit our website www abletonbibl TH RO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Table of Contents MIXING EXPLAINED 8 MIXING EXPLAINED SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 9 BASICS OF SOUND AND WAVES 10 BASIC WAVE THEORY 10 SINE WAVES 12 TRIANGLE WAVES 13 SQuaRE WAVES 14 SAWTOOTH WAVES 15 WHITE NOISE 17 PROPAGATION OF SOUND 18 WHAT IS SOUND 18 THE SPEED OF SOUND 19 WAVES 19 AMPLITUDE 19 CYCLES AND WAVELENGTHS 20 FREQUENCY 21 PHASE 21 DECIBELS 26 LOGARITHMIC SCALES 29 HOW WE HEAR 30 HEARING IS NOT LINEAR 31 BASICS OF SOUNDS AND WAVES SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 32 CRITICAL LISTENING 34 FREQUENCY 34 DYNAMICS 34 TIMBRE 35 TRAINING OUR EARS 36 IMAGING 36 SPATIAL AWARENESS 38 CRITICAL LISTENING SUMMARY 39 CRITICAL LISTENING KEY POINTS 39 THE ROOM 40 BASIC ROOM ACOUSTICS 40 STANDING WAVES 40 ROOM MODES 41 THE ROOM SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 44 TH RO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLET ‘ON LIVE MONITORING 45 COMPONENTS 45 THE COMPUTER/DAW 45 THE DAC 45 AMPLIFIER 45 MIXING CONSOLE 45 THE ROOM 45 MONITOR SPEAKERS 45 A NOTE ON EAR FATIGUE 47 MONITOR TYPES & USES OVERVIEW 48 1 - THE MID RANGE RADIO SPEAKER 48 2- NEARFIELD MONITORS 50 3 - SUB WOOFER 50 4.- HIGH END STUDIO SPEAKERS 50 SPEAKER SWITCHING & SET LEVELS 51 THE LISTENERS PERSPECTIVE 52 REFERENCE LOCATIONS 54 SPEAKER ORIENTATION 54 SPEAKER POSITIONING 55 MONITORING SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 56 STUDIO MONITORS - WHAT NOT TO DO 58 SPEAKER SELECTION 58 KEEP THINGS SYMMETRICAL 59 AVOID WALLS 61 AVOID POOR ANGLES 62 AVOID PROBLEMATIC REFLECTIONS 64 EQUAL LOUDNESS AND LEVELS 65 TOO MUCH LOW END 66 STUDIO MONITORS SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 67 ACOUSTIC TREATMENT 68 STANDING WAVES: 68 ECHO AND REVERB: 68 SIDE REFLECTIONS: 68 ACOUSTIC TREATMENT GUIDE 69 EARLY REFLECTIONS FROM THE SIDES 69 EARLY REFLECTIONS FROM THE CEILING 71 LOW-END RUMBLE & STANDING WAVES 72 FURTHER ENHANCEMENTS 73 ACOUSTIC TREATMENT SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 76 TH RO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE PSYCHOACOUSTICS EXPLAINED 77 WHAT ARE PSYCHOACOUSTICS 77 PERCEPTION IS NOT LINEAR 77 DYNAMIC RANGE 79 THE HAAS EFFECT (THE PRECEDENCE EFFECT) 80 MASKING 83 CRITICAL BANDS 83 NATURAL EAR PROTECTION TO LOUD NOISES 84 EQUAL LOUDNESS CURVES 84 FLETCHER-MUNSON TO ALTER DEPTH 85 EARS HEAR SOUND IN AN AVERAGE WAY (RMS) 85 LOCALISATION 87 LAYERING SOUNDS 89 DEPTH PERCEPTION 89 PSYCHOACOUSTICS SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 90 MIXING TECHNOLOGY AND EQUIPMENT 91 THE MIXING CONSOLE 91 THE PATCH BAY 91 OUTBOARD EQUIPMENT 92 THE DAW (DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATION) 92 STUDIO MONITORS 92 DIGITAL VERSUS ANALOG 92 MIXING TECHNOLOGY AND EQUIPMENT SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 93 MIX PREPARATION 94 BITDEPTH & SAMPLE RATE 95 TRACK ARRANGEMENT MARKER MAPPING 95 SIDECHAIN TRIGGER TRACKS 95 RENAMING & COLOURING 95 REMOVE LOW-END RUMBLE 96 TRACK COUNT REDUCTION 96 GROUPING & SUBMIXING TRACKS 97 DOUBLE CHECK TUNING AND TIMING OF PARTS 97 BOUNCE TO AUDIO 97 DAW MIXING TEMPLATES 98 TRACK STRUCTURE CHANNEL 98 SETTING UP A STEREO/MASTER BUS COMPRESSOR 98 IMPORTING & FILE MANAGEMENT. 99 MACRO MANAGEMENT AND HANDLES 99 REFERENCES AND A/B COMPARISON 101 COMPUTERS & THEIR SETTINGS FOR MIXING 101 BUFFER SIZES & LATENCY 102 FREEZING AND FLATTENING 102 MIX PREPARATION SUMMARY & KEY POINTS. 103 TH RO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE MIX PREP: TRACK ANALYSIS 105 OBJECTIVITY & SEPARATION OF MIX PHASES 105 MIXING SOMEONE ELSES TRACK 106 MIXING OUR OWN TRACK 107 MIX CHECKLIST 108 TRACK ANALYSIS SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 109 GAIN STAGING 110 WHAT IS GAIN STAGING? 110 GUIDE TO GAIN STAGING IN OUR MIX ait RECORDING au. INDIVIDUAL TRACK GAINS ait MIX BUSSES 112 GAIN STAGING SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 114 ABLETON’S MIXER ANATOMY ROUTING AND SIGNAL FLOW __115 WHAT IS SIGNAL FLOW 115 INPUTS 116 MONITOR MODES 116 INSERTS 117 SEND KNOBS 117 PAN POT 117 MUTE BUTTON 117 SOLO BUTTON 117 RECORD BUTTON 117 VOLUME FADER 118 METERING 118 METERING AND DYNAMIC RANGE TERMINOLOGY 118 PEAK METERING ANALYSIS 119 RMS METERING ANALYSIS 119 OUTPUTS 120 ROUTING, BUSSES & GROUPS 121 MIX/SUMMING BUSSES & AUXILIARIES, 121 BUSSES 121 GROUPS 121 SEND & RETURNS 122 STEREO OUTPUT 123 ROUTING, BUSSES & GROUPS SUMMARY & KEY POINTS 124 FINAL SUMMARY 125 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE MIXING EXPLAINED Mixing is the process of ‘combining’, ‘blending’ or ‘balancing’ multiple sound sources together. This gives us our resulting mix. The word ‘mix’, is an abbreviation of the word mix-down, which means that we will be Mixing ‘X’ number of tracks down, into a single stereo track. We can think of mixing as being lots of cumulative processes that achieve a final result. It only takes one tiny detail to be wrong in any one of these processes, and the integrity of the entire mix could be ruined. Mixing is quite a subjective artform, so there are plenty of different ways to get the same job done, as well as many different opinions on how things should be achieved. First and foremost, we need to realize that everyone has different tastes. What might sound amazing to one person may sound like rubbish to someone else. As our years of production accumulate, we will begin to build ourselves a preferred workflow and style. Further to this, as time passes, our ears will become much more finely tuned to what we are hearing, allowing for more analytical listening. This means that when we are listening to individual sounds within a mix, or the entire mix-down itself, we can understand exactly what it is we want to achieve, and how we plan to achieve it. For example you may be asked for: A punchier kick drum A warmer bass-line More prominent and upfront vocals More of a 3 dimensional mix All of these ideas are more easily achievable once you have a grasp of the tools at your disposal and the fundamentals of mixing. Not only will these different tastes and styles change from producer to producer, but other factors will need to be considered, such as the genre of music, the track itself, the emotions you wish to convey in the track, and even things such as whether the record will be pressed onto vinyl or not Factors such as these can seem Irrelevant and are often overlooked, but these small details matter. A common example of this is how tracks intended for vinyl need to be more dynamic than their digital counterparts, Vinyl tracks need careful attention with regards to the THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE extreme high & low frequencies to ensure proper groove geometry, as well as to prevent unwanted distortion that could make the needle skip out the grooves. Within the mixing process there are a few key functions that will need to be controlled and manipulated to give us a well-polished mix. These key functions are: + Volume (Balance) + Pan & Stereo Imaging + Equalization Dynamics Space & Depth Effects Automation Once we have got all of these different elements under control, the end result will be a ‘bounce’ of the sum of all our tracks, Typically this will give us our stereo-interleaved audio file, which will be ready for mastering. Many producers will mix their tracks as they are composing. This technique is fine, because it can help with a producer's creative flow; however, we strongly suggest revisiting the entire track from a mixing perspective. Different mixing methods are covered extensively in a later eBook from this mixing in Ableton Live series, MIXING EXPLAINED SUMMARY & KEY POINTS + Mixing is the process of combining multiple sound sources together + Different genres and music mediums require different mix- downs + Mixing is very subjective; each producer has his or her own way of working + A'bounce' is when we print a project or piece of audio to a file, such as a .wav or aiff + The mix process can be split down into key functions such as volume, panning, stereo imaging, EQ, dynamics, space & depth, effects and automation THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE BASICS OF SOUND AND WAVES In this section, we will take a brief look at the basics of sound waves, frequencies and harmonics. It’s important that we understand the basics of sound, so that we can fully grasp the reasons why we do certain things in the latter stages of the mix process. BASIC WAVE THEORY Firstly we have basic wave theory, the most common waveforms are: + Sine Wave Triangle Wave Square Wave Pulse Wave Sawtooth Wave White Noise It is unusual in the mixing stage, that waveforms will be this simple. Usually the audio we work with will be complex waveforms, which can be thought of as being made up of lots of simple waveforms stacked together, as well as a lot of effects and processing. ‘As we are aware, a sound is simply a vibration or oscillation. If a vibration cycles periodically, then they will have a musical tone. Complex tones can be broken down into a fundamental frequency and overtones, which together make the composite sound. (Fourier analysis) This is the technique used in spectral analysers, which is why they are also commonly referred to as FFT’s. (Fast Fourier Transform.) The reason we get these harmonics (overtones) in complex sounds is because of how an object can cause micro vibrations within itself. For example a guitar string can be split in half, third, quarter and so on, which will subsequently produce the 2™, 3 and 4" harmonics. The amplitude and phase of these harmonics will also play a considerable role in the overall timbre of the composite sound. 10 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE ° W816 OF 1 2887 02 ATWO OT aN ABR OT Splitting a vibrating object into whole number multiples shows a breakdown of the harmonics. This theory will also become useful later to understand the concept of standing waves. When we listen to sounds, we will be hearing them in the human hearing range. This is between 20Hz-20KHz. Generally, as we get older, most humans can’t hear much audio past around 15-18kHz. 11 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE We will take a look at each of these waveforms and their harmonic content using a frequency analyser. Spectral analysers can be set to work logarithmically or in a linear manor. We recommend keeping your spectral analyser in logarithmic mode, which is it’s default setting. This is because there are is a huge range of frequencies that we need to be able to see. Using a logarithmic graph allows us to see all of the frequencies in a more condensed and useful format. ine Waves Are the purest waveforms and only consist of the fundamental, with no harmonics. This means filters have little effect on their overall sound. They are often used for adding sub-bass to sounds. 1/4096, A sine waveform A sine waves spectral analysis THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Triangle Waves Contains only odd harmonics. The harmonics amplitude can be calculated using the formula: Amplitude = 1/N? (N = number of the harmonic, 1 being the fundamental) Triangle waves have a sound that is somewhere in between a sine wave and a square wave. ——— Wa A triangle wave Spectral analysis of a triangle wave THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Square Waves Contain only the odd harmonics; this gives them a hollow-type sound, which is good for recreating any form of wood instrument. Square waves can sometimes be referred to as pulse waves. Altering the pulse width can change a pulse wave's tonality. The amplitude of a square waves harmonics can be calculated using the formula: AMPLITUDE = 1/N 7 Err Ea Feral a L + = — i ia h. r 4/4096) A square wave Spectral analysis of a square wave (Sq8) ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE 1 A diagram to show a square wave. It’s characteristic ‘hollow’ or ‘wooden’ sound is achieved from its lack of even harmonics. This diagram also shows the change in amplitude per harmonic, in relation to the fundamental frequencies amplitude. 1254567 88 Sawtooth Waves Contain all the frequencies in the harmonic series. Each harmonic gets quieter as it goes up the scale, this causes Saw waves to produce a very rich sound, which makes them perfect for shaping with the use of filters. The amplitude of a sawtooth waves harmonics can be calculated using the formula: AMPLITUDE = 1/N For example, Harmonic 5 will be a 5" of the amplitude in comparison to the fundamental. A sawtooth wave is THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Spectral analysis of a sawtooth wave 1 “mM A diagram to show a sawtooth waves harmonics and their relative amplitudes in comparison with the fundamental frequency. 16 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE White Noise Contains all the frequencies within the frequency spectrum at full amplitude. White noise has many different uses, from synthesizing drums, to creating textures and swells. White Noise Spectral analysis of white noise 17 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE PROPAGATION OF SOUND To be able to understand how sound is affected by different environments, we must first take a look at what it is, and how it propagates through a medium such as air. WHAT IS SOUND Sound is simply waves of compressed and refracted air particles. These can be thought of as waves, or vibrations that travel through the air, Sound can be created by a voltage, which moves a magnet within a speaker. This speaker, which is transducing electrical energy into kinetic energy, is making the speaker driver move back and forth. This in turn excites the air particles in front of the speaker cone. These air particles propagate through a medium (in this case air) to our ears, where our eardrum’s (another form of transducer) detect the vibrations and turn them into neural-electrical signals for our brains to process. VARIATIONS IN AIR PRESSURE & CORRESPONDING WAVEFORM COMPRESSION RAREFACTION 18 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE THE SPEED OF SOUND The speed at which sound travels through a medium is known as a velocity. Sound travels at different velocities dependent on the material it is passing through. Mediums such as wood, water and air will all have different velocities. For the purposes of mixing we only need to worry about air. The speed of sound through air at room temperature is 343 meters per second. (1125ft per second) This can be approximated to 1 millisecond per foot, or 3ms per meter. WAVES We can describe a wave in terms of amplitude, wavelength, velocity, frequency, harmonic content (timbre) phase, and envelope. PEAK-PEAK PEAK 1, WAVELENGTH/PERIODIC CYCLE AMPLITUDE AMPLITUDE AMPLITUDE TIME ZERO CROSSING POINTS AMPLITUDE The amplitude is the distance from the central line to the furthest distance from the central line. This is commonly measured in Decibels, (dB) or Volts. (V) As we get further away from the central line, the amplitude, or loudness will increase. 19 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Measuring the highest peak to the central line is known as the peak amplitude, whereas measuring the entire waveform from its +tive, to its -tive value is know as peak to peak. We can also measure ‘RMS’ which stands for ‘root mean squared’. This will approximate the average amplitude of the wave. This is important because it gives us an indicator of the overall loudness of our track, whereas the peak volume only really gives us an indicator of whether our fast transient peaks are clipping or not. CYCLES AND WAVELENGTHS If we look at the diagram below, we can see one complete cycle of a sine wave. A cycle needs to pass through 360 degrees to become a full cycle. This can actually be shown as a circle; however, we split the circle in half and flip it over. This allows us to represent the wave over time. We can also see that the waves ‘degree’ defines its phase. A wave can start, or be ‘offset’ at any point along the 360 degrees. Phase Angle The wavelength of a waveform is the ‘length’ of the ‘wave’ or the distance from the beginning of the cycle, to the end of the cycle. We can use this formula to calculate wavelengths: ‘A (Lambda) (Wavelength) = Velocity of sound in air (343) / Frequency (Hz) This formula proves that low frequencies have large waveforms, between 5-20 meters, whereas higher frequencies can be as small as a matter of centimetres in length. 20 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Generally the low frequencies are most troublesome when mixing. This is very important when dealing with the acoustics of a room and standing waves. FREQUENCY We can see that a wavelength will periodically cycle. The amount of time it takes a wavelength to complete a full cycle, in seconds, is known as the frequency (measured in hertz). Frequency is directly related to pitch. If we have two wavelengths and one is twice as fast as the other, we can say that it is double the frequency. For every doubling in frequency, we will get a doubling in pitch. For example, A4 on the keyboard is 440Hz, Therefore AS will be 880Hz. The A4 and AS are an octave apart on the keyboard, which is 12 semitones. PHASE Phase can be used to describe the relationship between different waveforms, as well as to pinpoint a waveform’‘s amplitude as it cycles through time. This is a crucial concept that is important in many aspects of music production, from microphone placement and sound design, right through to room acoustics and general mixing. If we analyse a sine wave, we can think of it as positive and negative air pressure. (Compression and expansion of air molecules, as the speaker moves back and forth) We can see how the waveforms air pressure, increases and decreases equally through time (milliseconds). By drawing a zero line through the waveform, we can see that the waveform reaches zero crossing points throughout a single cycle. 21 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE If we look at this waveform without the concept of time, we can actually change this waveform into a circle, the only reason we don’t look at waveforms like this, is because we usually need to look at them relative to time. We can now see that this cycle’s zero crossing points can be measured in degrees of a circle. This is also how we measure phase, If we start two waveforms a few milliseconds apart from each other, they will be out of phase, due to the cycle starting at different points in time. IN Pas [ll v0- our or paase 180° OUT OF PHASE ” (OUT OF PHASE 360 360 0 90 180 270 0 90 180 270 © DEGREES 22 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE When we mix sounds, we will often be adding multiple waveforms together. If we stack some sine waves on top of each other, we can see how their phase relationships will cause them to add together (sum), or cancel each other out. Two identical signals directly out of phase will cause complete phase cancellation. Two identical waveforms in phase with each other will sum together and increase in volume. 23 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Two waveforms out of phase may have a mixture of summing and cancellation at different frequencies. This is fundamentally how we use up headroom when we sum all our tracks together to one stereo track, which will cumulatively get louder as we add more instruments. Hence, we can usually get more power, focus and volume with fewer instruments. Finally, if we have two sine waves one octave apart, and we sum them together, we can see how these sine waves slot together, which means they are in harmony with each other. The resultant wave will be a combination of the two waves. A3 - 220Hz A4- 440HHz AS - RROH7 AG - 1760Hz A7 - 3520Hz 24 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE ENVELOPES We also perceive sound by their amplitude envelopes. This is a more logical, three-dimensional way of perceiving the amplitude of a sound over a period of time, rather than any instantaneous moment. We can break a sound down into different sections or phases: ATTACK TIME DECAY TIME SUSTAIN LEVEL RELEASE TIME Sustain ‘Attack Decay Release There are more complicated versions of this ‘envelope’, but this is the type that we are going to be using most frequently. The attack phase is the initial period of time, when the sound builds up to its peak or transient. Decay is the time for a sound to go from its peak volume, down to its sustain level. Sustain is the level at which a note will sustain if a key is pressed. For example, a VST synthesizer will commonly loop at a certain sustain level when a key is pressed on a midi controller. Release the time it takes for the note to reduce to silence once we take our finger off the key. 25 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE These factors make up how audio sounds the way it does. We could say that most drum samples have a very sharp attack, giving them a percussive sound. They also tend to have a medium/sharp decay and no sustain or release. A string on the other hand, will have a very slow attack, and a more gradual release. A piano will have a fast attack and a fairly fast decay, then the sustain will continue if the sustain pedal is used, followed by a fairly sharp release. DECIBELS Now we will briefly go into the unit of measure for amplitude, the decibel. This is quite an unusual unit of measure, because the decibel is actually a relative unit of measure, which can be used in many different contexts. Decibels are used to express a ratio between a reference level and the level we are measuring. These can be different for power, sound pressure, digital, and analog equipment. The meaning of a decibel changes completely depending on what suffix is used after the DB. This is because the part that comes after the decibel will indicate what the decibel is being referenced to. For example: We have dBu which is used in analog equipment to measure voltage, OdBu is equivalent to 0.775volts. This is not to be compared to a VU meter. A VU meter is a slow analog meter that measures the average amplitude of the signal, (RMS) this closely replicates the human ear’s perception of sound. A VU meter can only be compared to another unit of measure when using a sine wave test tone. 0 VU corresponds to +4 dBu. 26 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE We also have dBv, which is very similar to dBu, but is referenced to 1 Volt rather than 0.775 volts. When we mix within DAWs we can use a combination of different metering, knowing how each of them compare to each other is important. We should mix VU meters so that the needle dances around the 0 VU point. This means we have the optimum signal to noise ratio (equivalent to +4dbu) When we are mixing on the channel faders in our DAW, 0 VU (+4dBu) should be equivalent to between -12 and -16 dB Full Scale The reason for this change between analog hardware and DAW's is because from -10dBfs to OdBfs within a DAW is actually supposed to be used as headroom. We have dB SPL, which is ‘Decibels Sound Pressure Level.’ This is referenced to the quietest sound the human ear can hear, which is 20 micro-Pascal's. This is the unit of measure used for things such as, measuring the loudness of a set of headphones. 1 Pascal is equivalent to 94dB SPL. (The sound of a motorbike going past) Console VU Meter A comparison of VU, analog and digital metering. 27 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Finally we also have dBFS or ‘decibels full-scale’ which is used in modern day DAW’s and digital audio. the dBFS scale works backwards from 0 dBFS. Zero dBFS is equivalent to the maximum volume achievable by a piece of digital equipment without clipping or distorting. Therefore a reading should never exceed OdBFS, else it will cause digital clipping. Because this level is variable, we measure backwards from OdBFS, down to the noise floor. This scale is logarithmic, so we will struggle hearing sounds after around -48dBFS. As we can see decibels and loudness can be quite complicated, but to keep things simple, loudness in every day life, is most commonly referred to in dB SPL whilst levels on analog equipment are commonly measured in dBu. However, throughout this eBook, we will be working within the Ableton Live DAW, so we will be referring to dBFS (Decibels Full Scale) unless otherwise stated. The dynamic range of a DAW can change dependant on the bit-depth. The more bits we have, the larger the dynamic range, because the bits can be used to represent a larger range of values. < BFS Vpeak RMS(Sine) 14.140 V 1 7.087 3.552 1.780 y 0.892 0.447 0.224 0.112 0.056 028 01 mV =AwoS99=NMS999999=Nnud, +NMNSS90+HNOO! + 2 2 9 1 6 8 9 0 0 0 2mv 2 9 1 6 8 9 | 1S 10 + 1 24 bit a A diagram to show how bit-depth affects the dynamic range BASS SSVSNMVOMNE 2: @: Si 2. oi & 28 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE LOGARITHMIC SCALES As mentioned in the last section, decibels use a logarithmic scale. The reason for this is because it is similar to how the human ear interprets sound. The dynamic range of human hearing goes from OdB SPL to 120dB SPL. This range could not be plotted on a scale in a conventional manor. This is where logarithms come in. a Logarithmic scale is basically a condensed scale that allows us to plot more easily onto graphs. It does this using a mathematical function, so that logarithmic numbers increase exponentially. We can also see this on the meters of our volume faders. We can also see a logarithmic scale by opening up a spectrum analyser; the frequency lines are spaced differently to show certain frequency ranges in more detail than others. Here is a chart of the logarithmic value in decibels. This should help you to understand that a doubling in dB doesn’t necessarily correlate to a doubling in loudness. dB Relative Power Increase 0 1 1 1.26 3 2 10 10 20 100 30 ©1000 50 100’000 100 10’000’000’000 The part where this gets confusing is that as we can see, 3 dB is a doubling in power (amplitude). However, a doubling of voltage would be equivalent to 6dB’s, (sound pressure level) whilst in terms of psychoacoustics, our perception of double the loudness would be more like 10dBs. This can all get very confusing, but as long as we can grasp the concept that we measure our dynamic range in decibels, and that this is an exponential scale, then we will have more than enough knowledge to mix tracks down effectively. 29 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE HOW WE HEAR As we are aware, sound is comprised of fluctuations in pressure. (Compression and rarefaction of atmospheric pressure.) Or in simple terms, a speaker cone moving back and forward, causing vibrations in the air. When these vibrations reach the ear, they are projected into the ear canal by the outer ear. Once inside the ear canal, the vibrations will then reach the eardrum and cause it to vibrate. These vibrations are transduced into tiny movements, which then go to the inner ear, where thousands of tiny hair receptors transduce these vibrations into a neural signal, which then passes down the acoustic nerve into the brain, where it is interpreted as sound. These tiny hairs within the inner ear can easily be damaged by loud noises. They will also naturally deteriorate over time, with age. Once they are damaged they do not recover, so be wary of listening at loud levels. Damage to these tiny hairs leads to tinnitus (ringing ears) and permanent hearing damage. This hearing loss occurs from long exposures of over approximately 90dB SPL, Typically anything over 115dB SPL will cause significant temporary or permanent hearing loss even at relatively short exposures. It’s also worth noting that it’s generally the higher frequencies that will do the most damage, rather than the sub frequencies, as many people would think. Threshold of hearing ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE HEARING IS NOT LINEAR Human hearing isn’t linear. Many experiments have concluded that our hearing is more sensitive around the 3-5KHz range. Frequencies that are in the extreme high or low ranges will often need to be significantly louder for us to perceive them as the same level as a frequency in the 3-5khz range. This can be shown with this graph of equal loudness curves below. Besessss HHH Threshold of ‘iby Sound pressure level (4B re 2x 10-* os 20 ‘30100 200 500-1000 20005000 10k_~— 20k. Frequency (Hz) 31 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE BASICS OF SOUNDS AND WAVES SUMMARY & KEY POINTS. + The most common waveforms are sine, triangle, square, pulse, saw & white noise + During mixing we will come across complex combinations of these waves + Any sound can be created using multiple sine waves. This is the fundamental theory behind additive synthesis + Sine waves are the purest waveforms, consisting of a fundamental frequency only + Triangle waves contain odd harmonics and are slightly brighter than sine waves + Square waves contain odd harmonics and sound hollow; these are good for replicating wooden sounds + Saw waves contain all the frequencies in the harmonic scale and are very bright + White noise contains all the frequencies in the spectrum at full amplitude + Sound propagates through air at 343 meters per second (1125ft per second) + This can be approximated at 3ms per meter (1ms per foot) + Waves can be described in terms of amplitude, wavelength, velocity, frequency, timbre, phase & envelope + Apeak measurement is the loudest part of the signal + RMS means root-mean-square which is a more average way of interpreting a signal + RMS is closer to how the human ear hears sound + There's 360 degrees to one periodic cycle + Hertz (Hz) is the measurement of frequency 32 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE 1Hz is 1 cycle per second Wavelength = velocity of sound in air (343 meters) / Frequency (Hz) A doubling in frequency is also a doubling in pitch (1 octave) The range of human hearing is 20Hz - 20KHz Phase is measured in degrees Similar sounds that are in phase with each other will sum together Similar sounds that are out of phase will cancel each other out ‘A. common way of representing and manipulating a sounds amplitude over time, is b with ADSR envelopes ADSR envelopes and LFO's can also be used as modulation sources The decibel is a relative unit of measure to a given reference level There are many different types of decibel, within music DB SPL and DBFS are the most common 0 DBFS is the loudest a signal can go within software without. clipping Decibels are logarithmic, a doubling in DB is not the same as a doubling in loudness Sound is the compression and rarefaction of air pressure Human hearing is not linear; our hearing is most acute in the vocal range of 3-5Khz 33 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE CRITICAL LISTENING Critical listening is the ability to listen to a track in an objective, analytical manner. Detaching ourselves from the music in this way is much harder than first thought, especially if the person listening had a part in the production or mixing of the music, We need to listen to the track and dissect it with a whole new level of depth and understanding. This allows us to deconstruct the sounds and music we make, in order to identify any problems that we may have within our mix, allowing us to figure out how we can then rectify them, A keen critical listening ear comes with lots of practice and can take years to develop. There are three main categories that we can divide a sound into when we are making a critical analysis: + FREQUENCY + DYNAMICS + HARMONIC CONTENT (timbre) FREQUENCY This directly correlates to pitch, however frequency on its own is only a small part of the sound, as we will soon see in the timbre section. DYNAMICS Dynamic range is another fundamental characteristic of sound. Dynamic range simply means the difference between the loudest and quietest parts. This could be of a single sample, such as a snare hit, or it could be used in a more general context, such as the dynamic range of a vocalist throughout an entire track. Usually a vocalist will fluctuate in volume throughout different sections of the track, meaning that they are very dynamic, and will often use a compressor to keep the dynamic peaks under control. Another example of dynamic range, which is used in the majority of productions in some form or another, is controlling dynamics of individual sounds to shape how they are heard within the mix. 34 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Compressors and envelopes can be used to control the attack and decay phases of sounds such as kick drums. This can be used to soften attacks that are ‘peaking,’ or ‘clipping’, as well as to give sounds more bite and punch. TIMBRE As we should now be aware, a tone generator playing a sine wave at 440Hz is equivalent in pitch to A4 on the keyboard. If we now double this frequency to 880Hz, we now hear AS on the keyboard. For every doubling in frequency, we go one octave (12 semitones) up the keyboard. If we now load an instance of the grand piano in Ableton, and play the same A4 and AS notes, we can tell they sound completely different to the sine wave. Even if they had the same dynamics as our sine wave, they would still sound completely different due to their harmonic content or timbre. The extra harmonics are also known as overtones and they layer together to give us our sound. To prove this, we could use a 24dB per octave low pass filter, to remove these overtones until we are only left with the pianos fundamental frequency, which will make it sound very similar to our sine wave, This proves that we can make almost any sound purely out of multiple sine waves at different frequencies, which is the basis for additive synthesis and was theorised by Joseph Fourier (Fourier’s Theorem). We can use Fourier’s theorem to use a potentially infinite amount of sine waves to create any complex periodic waveform. In this case a square wave. In each stage of the diagram we can see how more sine waves are used at varying frequencies to square off the square wave. 35 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE TRAINING OUR EARS A point that we would like to reiterate is that we aren’t going to improve our critical listening capabilities overnight. It takes lots of time and practice to train our ears and we must be training them as often as we possibly can. We can do this by mentally dissecting songs that we hear on the radio or on podcasts. There are also plenty of useful ear training videos on YouTube, which will allow us to hone in on frequency and dynamics. We can think about the elements such as: frequencies, timbre, dynamics, stereo image and depth. We can also think in terms of different instruments and how they come in and out of the mix during various sections of the arrangement. Although it is very tempting, we should not be using our eyes to mix. We don’t use our eyes to hear music when we listen to it, so therefore we should not be using our eyes when mixing because our brain will subconsciously make decisions for us, based on what we see rather than what we can hear. For example: We may see a cluster of resonant frequencies in a kick drum at a certain frequency range. Many producers are aware that 200Hz is a common area for a build up in 'muddy' and ‘boxy’ frequencies, We should be using our ears and sweeping through these frequencies to listen for resonances. Just because we are aware of these common problematic areas does not mean that this particular sample is going to benefit from this blanket style of treatment. the ears are our best tool, not our eyes. IMAGING Most modern electronic music is listened to in stereo. Stereo is when sound is reproduced to come out of two independent audio channels through a symmetrical configuration of speakers. This allows for sounds to be placed in a ‘space’ in the mix between the two speakers, by using panning and relative volume between each speaker. This ‘space’ is known as the stereo field. To grasp a better understanding of this concept, listen to this short YouTube clip using headphones: https://www.youtube.com/watel DTivagiJA 36 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE These recordings can utilize stereo imaging techniques to really place the listener in the space. We also have ‘mono’ or monophonic sound. Monophonic sound is the reproduction of sound using one channel, instead of two independent ones. This is how most club sound systems work, so that the volumes and audio playback is the same, regardless of our positioning within the club. This is worth taking note of, because we don’t want any of our music to have any phase issues when summed to mono, which often causes issues such as a ‘phasey’ sound, peaks, or complete cancellation of certain frequencies. If we load a track into our DAW, we can easily tell if it is mono or stereo by looking at the waveform to see if there are two separate channels. When these two separate channels are on one track, this is known as stereo-interleaved. Meaning that there are two channels that are kept together as one individual file, as opposed to having two separate mono audio files on separate tracks, which would require panning to make the full stereo track. When we place sounds, it is our aim to spread them across the stereo field to create a cohesive stereo image. A good example of this is to think of a live band set out on a stage. If we close our eyes, we can paint a mental picture of what the stage looks like and where the players of the band are situated, purely from the sound and direction of the instruments. This is yet another tool that we can use as producers to add layers of interest to our productions. There will be a book dedicated specifically to reverb and depth in this mix series. For now, we just need to have a very basic awareness of the fact that there is more than one dimension to a mix. We also need to think in terms of width, as well as direction and height. Mono Listening Position Position. = ; 37 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE SPATIAL AWARENESS So far we have covered frequency, timbre, volume (height) and direction (including width) of our sounds. But what about depth? We need to be spatially aware when listening and critiquing mixes. In every day life we hear a natural reverb on every single sound we hear. For sound to reach us, some of it will go directly to our ears, some of it will bounce off the walls of the room, then to our ears, and some of it could bounce around a room several times before reaching our ears. This is the reason that when we listen to a sound, we are able to make educated guesses as to the size of the room the noise was made in, the type of room, (tiled walls or lots of curtains and carpets) and of course the distance we are away from the sound. ‘As mix engineers, we can use the fact that our ears have this added skill set of depth detection to create a sense of space and depth within our tracks. We can accomplish this with a few different tools at our disposal. From Reverb (most common), right the way through to compression, EQ, delay & volume. REVERBERATION - The time it takes for the reflected sound to reduce to 60dBs from the cessation of the original sound signal. (Measured in seconds) + Reflected sound tends to ‘build up’ to a level louder than the direct sound. Reflected sounds mask direct sound. + Late arriving reflections tend to smear direct sound. 38 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE CRITICAL LISTENING SUMMARY Everything we have covered so far will help us to be able to listen, analyse and critique our mixes, as well as to hopefully help create some great sounding ones. We also need to know that we can trust what we are hearing and know that it is an accurate representation of our creations. If we aren’t accurately monitoring our track, then we will have no way of telling how the track will translate to the rest of the world. CRITICAL LISTENING KEY POINTS * Critical listening is listening to a track in an objective analytical manner + Critical listening takes time and practice, paying attention to the frequency, dynamics, and harmonics of each individual sound and how it fits in the mix. + Dynamic range is the difference between the loudest and the quietest parts in a mix + Macro dynamics can be thought of as the long-term dynamics + Micro dynamics can be thought of as the dynamics between different components of a single sound + Timbre describes the tone and harmonics of a sound + Mono is the reproduction of sound through a single channel + Stereo is the reproduction of sound through separate channels + Mixes can be analysed in terms of height, width and depth + Reverb and other effects can be used to introduce an element of dimension into a mix 39 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE THE ROOM BASIC ROOM ACOUSTICS For us to understand how to set our room up, we must first understand what the sound is doing when it is played within a room. This in itself is a very large topic that we could go into great detail on, but for the purposes of this eBook we will only cover topics necessary to mixing tracks down at home, or in a studio environment. Firstly, we can state that when a sound is played in a room, it will bounce (reverberate) off the surfaces of the room. These reflections will alter, as well as colour, the sound in certain ways. The issue we have, is that different surfaces will reflect or dampen the reverb more efficiently than other surfaces, Also the dimensions of the room will cause certain frequencies to produce standing waves. These come in the form of resonances and room modes. It is almost impossible to completely remove reverb, but what we can achieve is a calculated and equal amount of reverb throughout all the frequencies of the spectrum. We also want a nice flat frequency response with no resonances (peaks) or cancellations. STANDING WAVES To understand standing waves, we must understand that a wavelength is inversely proportional to frequency. This means that the lower the frequency, the longer the wavelength. A frequency of 30Hz will have a wavelength of 11.4m This can be calculated by the formula: (Wavelength) A = (Speed of sound in metres/s) 343 / (frequency) 30Hz 343 metres per second / 30Hz = 11.4m Wavelength We can see that although standing waves are predominantly a low frequency problem, they can affect any frequency within the spectrum. 40 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE When our bass speaker plays a 30Hz sine wave in a room, the wave is going to bounce back and forth off the walls. As it bounces back on it’s self, it’s going to alter its phase relationship, relative to the part of the wave that hasn’t hit the walll yet. This will usually make it out of phase; however, if they are directly in phase, or directly out of phase, then we will get cancellation of frequencies, or we could get a summing of frequencies. ‘As we walk around the room, certain areas will have almost no bass whatsoever, whilst other areas of the room will have almost double the amount of bass. This is clearly a problem when we are trying to find a tonal balance for our mix, especially when it comes to any parts that are sub 300Hz. With this knowledge we can do some calculations to ensure our rooms dimensions don’t cause standing waves. As a rule of thumb rectangular and odd shaped rooms are quite well suited for monitoring purposes. The worst kind of room shape for monitoring is a perfect square, as this shape causes multiple standing waves at the same frequencies. ROOM MODES WHEN A FREQUENCY MULTIPLIES INTO THE LENGTH OF TWO WALLS A STANDING WAVE IS FORMED We can use an equation to find out our room modes and problematic frequencies that will produce standing waves. In the diagram above, N and A define the nodes and anti-nodes of the standing wave. 41 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Nodes are where the standing wave will be at minimum amplitude. The anti-nodes will be where maximum displacement will occur within a cycle. A good way to imagine this is that the standing wave in the diagram is a set of skipping ropes. Only the anti-nodes will fluctuate in value. The nodes and antinodes are always going to be located at the same position along the space/medium, hence the term “standing wave.” Frequency = Speed Of Sound / 2x Distance (between parallel walls) Frequency of standing wave = 343 / 2m x2 In this case we have a standing wave at 85.75Hz. We can now also multiply this frequency by itself, to get the room modes for the harmonics as well, which will also have an uneven response. These problematic frequencies only really occur up to around the 300Hz mark. After this point, there are so many standing waves and resonant frequencies, that they actually smooth back out again and don’t cause much of an issue. Our main room modes to be concerned with are axial, tangential and oblique. * Axial room modes hit on two surfaces crosswise + tangential room modes hit on four surfaces crosswise + oblique room modes hit on six surfaces crosswise These can easily be calculated using your room dimensions with free online software. 42 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Axial room modes Tangential room modes Oblique room modes 43 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE THE ROOM SUMMARY & KEY POINTS * Sounds will bounce and reverberate off the walls and surfaces of a room + We want to achieve a flat frequency response within our room + Standing waves are caused by sound waves cancelling each other out or Summing together as they reflect back on themselves + Wavelength = speed of sound / frequency + Bass tends to build up in the corners of a room + Standing waves are most prevalent at lower frequencies + There will be multiple standing waves within a room + We can calculate standing waves using this formula + Frequency of standing wave = Speed of Sound / 2x Distance (between + We can calculate velocity, wavelength and frequency by transposing this formula Frequency (Hertz) = Velocity (Meters/Second)/ Wavelength (Meters) 44 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE MONITORING COMPONENTS Here are a few components that should be taken into account when monitoring: THE COMPUTER/DAW The computer and the software will be the centre stage of your studio setup. We recommend using a computer with fast CPU processing power and large monitor. THE DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) this will often come in the form of a soundcard. AMPLIFIER Many speaker systems will have active monitors, so we will not need an amplifier; however, in the case of passive speakers, one will be required. MIXING CONSOLE We may be routing our audio through an analog or digital mixing console of some sorts, from here the signal will be split, or routed to different speakers for monitoring playback. THE ROOM The room’s size, dimensions, and materials within it, will all play a key part in how we hear and interpret a sound. MONITOR SPEAKERS When mixing a track, it is crucial that we are monitoring in a good environment, through a decent set of speakers. Most studios will have nearfield monitors, from companies such as KRK, Yamaha or Genelec. 45 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE When buying studio equipment, speakers should be right at the top of the priority list. Everything we hear and do will have a heavy dependency on the quality and positioning of our monitoring system. To that end, its important to make sure we save our money for a good set of nearfield monitors with a flat frequency response. The frequency response needs to be as flat and as true to the actual audio coming out our soundcard as possible, Any colouration, or warming of the signal at this point, would trick us into thinking our mix sounds much warmer & richer than it actually is. This will often result in a colder sounding mix. We may also want to buy a subwoofer as well, for sub-monitoring. Generally if our studio is a bedroom environment, and our nearfield drivers are around the 8” range, then we probably won't need the subwoofer. We also advise to get a few other monitoring systems. Having a set of headphones at hand for when we want to reference our mix through other sound sources can be really useful. Any set of DJ headphones work fine for this such as Pioneer or Sennheiser’s. We aren't necessarily going for crystal quality here. What we are trying to achieve, is a well-rounded idea of how our mix sounds on different mediums, to aid our objective decision making during the mix. KRK Rokit frequency response graph Finally the last monitoring source, and also one of the most important sources, is to invest in a lower quality speaker, We don’t mean that it’s falling apart. Its cones etc. should still be in good condition. What we mean here is an old radio-type speaker. 46 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE We are looking for a cold, flat, and true speaker, which will reveal any mid range flaws within a mix, it should be fairly small and only have one cone. (This negates any issues with crossovers.) It should also not be ported which may cause resonances. (Nearfield monitors often use ports to extend the bass range, which will suddenly drop off at around 40Hz, we don’t want a ported design because this will ensure a more even low frequency ramp) We also want to be able to send an auxiliary or Phono cable to it. If this has any form of bass/treble EQ settings on it, make sure they are set to neutral so as not to affect the signal. Do not use computer, or iPod docking-station speakers, as these often employ psychoacoustic technologies to enhance the warmth, bass, and stereo image of our mix. Ideally we should be doing the vast majority of our mixing on the rubbish speakers. Try to do this at the lowest possible volume. (We should set certain reference volumes that we use consistently; this can be achieved using a ‘dim’ switch, which allows us to switch between set levels.) Generally a good volume is so that we don’t need to raise our voice to hold a conversation over the sound of the speakers. This will be around 70dBs. Any louder than this level and we will start to induce ear fatigue and hearing loss at long exposures of 8 hours or more. Once we have done the majority of the mix on the radio speaker, we can then move onto our nearfield monitors. We will find that we have a lot less work to do, than if we were to do this the other way around. A NOTE ON EAR FATIGUE The best way of describing ear fatigue is when we can no longer make accurate mix choices or decisions. This is because our ears are very good at adapting to sounds. When listening for long periods of time they can often lie to us, and give a false representation of what we are actually hearing. The louder a signal is, the faster the onset of ear fatigue. This can be affected by a number of other variables as well, ranging from how much sleep we have had, right through to the type of audio, and room conditions we are working in. 47 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Listening at high volume levels for a long period of time can lead to hearing loss, and ear fatigue, so look after the tools of your trade carefully! A good example of ear fatigue is a situation that many producers will have come across: We've been pulling an all night session on a track, to get it finished in time for a deadline and have got it sounding amazing. We go to sleep and wake up the next day. We give the track one last listen before bouncing the audio down, only to find out that it now sounds horrendous. This is ear fatigue in all its glory. MONITOR TYPES & USES OVERVIEW We can utilize different types of monitors for different purposes when mixing. 1 - THE MID RANGE RADIO SPEAKER This is going to be how the vast majority of listeners will hear our mix. Think of this as an ‘average Joe’ of all of the different speakers and methods of listening to our track combined into one neat, well rounded speaker. Whilst this speaker won’t sound as good as our main nearfield monitors, it’s of just as much importance. This is due to how it will really highlight any mid range issues in our mix that would be much less obvious on the nearfields. If we can get our mixes sounding good on this, then we're well on our way to a decent, final mix-down. We should be able to mix on these speakers for a full 8-hour. session without experiencing ear fatigue, the majority of our big decisions, and balancing should be done on these, Our radio style speakers should not be placed directly towards our ears, as this will give a clearer sound, We want a listening environment that closely replicates how the end consumers are likely to hear our music when listening back to it. This little trick, of listening to the audio from a distance helps us to listen to our mix objectively, instead of getting over involved. Due to their small size, they are also not going to be affected by our room’s acoustic properties as much, because they will have considerably less low-end, Because of this, these speakers aren’t suitable for any mixing decisions under 60-100Hz. 48 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE For monitoring below this range, we will need to use nearfields and possibly a subwoofer. The small radio speaker is also not suitable for adjusting the 12khz + range of our mix, due to not being able to reproduce the high-end frequencies efficiently. Try to split the mixing time, so that roughly 50% of the mixing session is done using these speakers Many producers will choose to use just one radio type speaker rather than two. This allows for quicker mono compatibility testing as well as balancing. An iconic speaker that was used for this purpose was the Auratone SC. Whilst this speaker was certainly not the first choice for a full and non-biased frequency spectrum, It was perfect for highlighting those difficult, muddy, mid-range frequencies, which many people believe can make or break a track. The Auratone speakers are now no longer in production however good alternatives are the Avantone Mixcubes, the Behringer C5A‘s, or C50A’s. These have been built to replicate the properties of the infamous Auratone speakers. Take the time to listen to plenty of reference tracks on the portable speakers, also remember to switch between the nearfields and the radio speaker whilst listening to the same track, so we can really hear the difference in sound quality. Monitor switching controllers can be really useful for flicking between different speaker types as well as setting reference levels for our different speakers and stereo/mono checks. A well-respected monitor controller worth investing in is the M- Patch 2 from JBL. This allows for switching between two inputs and outputs, and a handy stereo/mono switch. A good test, to reference the low-end on our portable radio speaker, is to play a reference track and push the volume till the track distorts. Take note of how loud it is. Now do the same with our own production and see if this goes louder or quieter before distorting. The distortion is usually caused by the high-energy, low-end Frequencies eating up headroom. So if our mix gets a lot louder without distorting, then this is usually a good sign that our mix doesn’t have enough low-end. And likewise, if it distorts earlier than expected, then we may have too much low-end in our mix. 49 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE 2- NEARFIELD MONITORS This is the type of speaker that we will find in almost every studio, they have a very neutral and linear frequency response and add little to no colouration or warmth to the sound. This gives us a very true representation of what our audio sounds like. It’s common to have two sets of nearfield speakers, and as we mentioned earlier, some popular speakers are Yamaha’s, KRK’s and Genelec’s. These speakers will give us around 4 hours of mixing without causing ear fatigue and we should be aiming to use these for around 40 percent of our allotted mixing time. This speaker needs to be able to respond well to transients and also have a wide bandwidth to be able to accurately reproduce the full frequency range. They are designed to be fairly close to the listener, at head height, in an equilateral triangle formation. Speaker setup will be explained shortly. 3 - SUB WOOFER When using nearfields, we are aware many models have the drawback of a relatively poor bass response due to their size. The frequency response of many smaller nearfields drops off below around 40Hz. We can add a subwoofer to our arsenal to help recreate these frequencies, to aid us in the mix process. Issues we will need to consider, when using a subwoofer are: * Where we should place it + At what frequencies should it crossover with the monitors « Is it in phase with the nearfield monitors? « Is the level set correctly in relation to the nearfields? If we cannot accommodate a subwoofer, then try a professional set of monitoring headphones that can really help for listening and balancing bass frequencies when we don’t have the luxury of an acoustically treated room. 4 - HIGH END STUDIO SPEAKERS Finally we have the top of the range speakers that we can find in high-end studios. These are often built into the walls of the studio, or are large floor standing speakers. 50 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Other than to show off to clients, These speakers will help us to pick out the extremely fine details In a mix, for making micro changes that we wouldn't be able to notice on a set of nearfields or radio speaker. We can also use them for precise surgical EQing, as well as getting our extreme low, and high-end tonal and volume balance adjusted correctly. We should not listen on these speakers for any more than an hour. The final 10% of our mixing time can be done on these speakers, Our audience will not have the luxury of listening back to the mix on these speakers, so its important to understand the concept of getting our mix to sound good on systems that consumers are likely to use, rather than an expensive studio sound system. This is especially prevalent in the bass frequencies, where we may need to add extra harmonics to a sub-bass, so that it can be heard through speakers with smaller drivers. SPEAKER SWITCHING & SET LEVELS Many of us will monitor at loud listening volumes during the compositional, creative and arrangement stages of our production, to help us get inspired, and build a vibe into our track. This is absolutely fine, but when we are mixing we need to adhere to a different set of rules. By the mixing stage, all of the compositional decisions should have been made. Many producers will render their tracks to audio to commit to the mixing stage; this also prevents any further tweaking. When we are mixing, we are generally not adding anything extra to the track other than FX. Our job is to work with, and improve what is already there, to make it sound as good as it possibly can. For this reason, we need to monitor at low volume levels. Ideally, we should always be able to hold a conversation over our monitoring levels. If possible, keep it on the lowest setting possible, whilst still being able to mix. This will pay dividends when we eventually turn the mix up later on. As we monitor at louder volumes, our mind gets satisfaction from the increase in volume, tricking our brain into thinking that the mix sounds better, or punchier than it actually does, when in reality the 51 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE only change is volume. Try this test with a reference track to see for yourself, Getting the mix right at a lower level will help it to sound much more well rounded and fuller when played at louder levels due to the way the human ear perceives music at different volumes. (The Fletcher-Munson curve) We are fully aware that it is unlikely that everyone will have the willpower to abide by these rules, So we have allowed some flexibility for when its okay to listen at loud volume levels: + In any other stage of production, other than mixing or mastering + At the very end of the mixing session + At the very end of the day before we go to sleep + Before we go for extended breaks from mixing Also remember what has been said about dividing our mixing time between the different speaker types. 50% of the mixing session should be done on the radio speaker. This is for the big decisions and the majority of our balancing and tonal sculpting 40% should be done on our nearfields, for further in-depth mixing & fine tuning that requires a higher quality driver. The final 10% should be done on high-end studio speakers for any fine-tuning and extreme low & high-end adjustment if necessary. Remember to A-B between different speaker types to see how the parts that we’re working on translate in different speakers. THE LISTENERS PERSPECTIVE End consumers aren't going to be sat in a studio every day with the luxury of a beautiful set of speakers. The chances are, they will hear our track in a car, on a radio, on their iPod docking station, or on headphones. 52 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE For these reasons its important to get the mix sounding perfect on a poor sound system at low levels. That way, if we can get the kicks to punch, and the vocals to sit right throughout the track at a low level, when Joe Bloggs walks past a house party from outside, he is still going to be able to hear the important elements of the track. A good test is to turn our speakers up fairly loud, go outside the room and shut the door. How does our track compare to our reference tracks from outside of the room? This is also a very useful technique for checking the kick and bass balance. A final reason for monitoring at low volumes is because at loud volumes the ear can actually create its own harmonic distortion and make up sounds that aren’t actually there. For example; if we play a 1KHz sine wave at low volumes, then it sounds like a 1KHz sine wave as expected. However, if we begin to play it louder, we can start to hear a combination of harmonics as well, such as 2KHz and 3KHz sine waves. This also works the other way round, so if we have the harmonics, but not the fundamental, we can trick our ears into thinking that the fundamental note is actually there. This psychoacoustic trick is used in small speaker systems that can’t reproduce low frequencies to make sounds more bass heavy than they actually are. This is known as the missing fundamental. This technique is employed in certain bass enhancing plugins such as Maxxbass and Rbass from Waves. 53 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE REFERENCE LOCATIONS Reference your tracks in unusual places, where the consumer is likely to hear your track, such as in a car. Not only do most cars have good audio systems, but they are also useful places for checking the imperfections of our mix; + There's a high chance that we are fairly well acquainted with the sound of our car's audio system. + It gets us away from the studio + Acars interior is usually soft, which means it will be absorbing a lot of the reverberated sound, this coupled with the lack of parallel walls make it a good listening environment SPEAKER ORIENTATION When setting up our speakers, we should avoid mounting them on our desk or table, because this may cause vibrations that could cause further acoustic issues. If we must have them on the table, then make sure they are isolated from vibrations, by using rubber or foam mats. Speakers should be placed on speaker stands, most speaker stands will have some form of spike between the bottom of the stand and the floor to help isolate the vibrations, We should also have a set of cones between the speaker and the stand, If this is not possible, rubber or foam will suffice. Ensure that your speakers are the right way around. This may sound silly at first, but speakers are designed to project the frequencies in a certain way. By having the speakers in the wrong orientation, or upside down, they may sound different. Most speakers are designed so that the tweeters will be above the main driver, The angle at which the speakers are set, as well as the height, will affect the colour and stereo imaging of your music. Generally nearfield monitors are designed to point directly towards the listener with the tweeters at ear level. 54 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE SPEAKER POSITIONING We should set our speakers up using a few simple and effective guidelines: + Set the speakers up in an equilateral triangle to the listener + The speakers should be facing directly towards the listener + Arough guide for distance would be a 3ft gap between each speaker and the listener. This is subject to the desk, speakers and room Any closer than this, and we would perceive a very narrow stereo image, causing us to compensate by over-widening. Likewise, if the speakers are too far apart, we will experience a wider stereo image with a hole in the centre, Ensure that our speaker gain pots are set correctly on the back of the speakers, having one knob set slightly different to the other one will create an unbalanced or lopsided listening environment. Many gain knobs on the back of monitors will have a default position at OdB’s, which will click into place. 55 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE MONITORING SUMMARY & KEY POINTS + The main component of a studio are, monitors, amplifier, D-A converter, mixing console, workstation/computer and the room itself + Look for monitors with a flat frequency response + Ensure the monitors can accurately reproduce the sub bass frequencies + Speakers with drivers of below 8" will usually require support from a sub-woofer + Reference & monitor the mix through multiple sound sources + There is a significant difference in perceived loudness between 70 - 90 dBs SPL * Monitor at a level where normal talking can still be heard over the music + Monitoring at loud levels will increase ear fatigue and the risk of permanent hearing damage * Take regular breaks when working on a track to allow the ears to reset + Use a DIM switch to alternate between set volumes when mixing + Be aware of monitoring at different levels and the effect of the fletcher-Munson curve + There are occasions when it's okay to listen at louder volumes, such as during compositional tasks, at the end of the day, or before going on a long break + Use a basic radio speaker for the majority of big decisions (50% of the mix process) + Use the nearfields for 40% of the mix process + Use larger professional studio speakers for the final 10% if you have them 56 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Always have the end consumer and how they will hear your track in mind when mixing Speakers should be placed on speaker stands or on the desk Use rubber isolators/de-couplers to prevent speaker vibrations Ensure speaker orientation is correct Tweeters should be at eye level Nearfields are designed to face the listener directly The speakers should be equal distance apart (around 3ft) Place speakers in an equilateral triangle from the listener 57 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE ROOM ACOUSTICS: STUDIO MONITORS - WHAT NOT TO DO Because monitoring mistakes are very common, we have compiled a “how not to monitor” guide rather than how to do it properly, so you can quickly see if you are making any silly mistakes, as well as find answers on how to fix them. Setting a budget and choosing our studio monitors should be up there as a ‘high priority task’ for our home studio. Producers often overlook the setup of the monitors; every single decision we make will be reliant on the sound of the speakers in our room. So it's absolutely vital that you get the best speakers we possibly can for our price range; however, having the best quality studio monitors counts for absolutely nothing if we have a problematic room setup. SPEAKER SELECTION Research speaker's carefully before buying. Some speakers lend themselves to certain types of music, An important specification to look at is the frequency response of our speakers. We want this to be as neutral as possible, whilst still extending low into the sub range. This means that the speaker should give us a true sound and level at any given frequency, whereas consumer speakers, such as Hifi's often have a non-linear response, which will accentuate high and low frequencies to make the signal warmer & louder. Also pay attention to the type of drivers in our speakers. A general rule of thumb is that the larger the driver size, the better our speakers will be able to reproduce the low-end frequencies. 58 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Performance Graph Hse HS7 HSS Hses The Yamaha HS series Frequency Response. A good set of monitors should have a flat, non-biased frequency response. The bigger the drivers, the lower the speakers will be able to go in reproducing bass frequencies. The HS8S is a sub-woofer designed to aid nearfield monitors with drivers of less than 8" KEEP THINGS SYMMETRICAL This can be a hard task if we have unusual room dimensions, but it's important that our speakers are in symmetry with the dimensions of our room. This means that ideally we want our desk in the middle of a rectangular room, with our speakers on either side, in an equilateral triangle shape from each other to our head. If the left speaker is 1m from the left hand wall, then the right speaker should be exactly the same. This is also the case for the back wall. If our studio is in the corner of a room then we can still achieve the same symmetry by angling off diagonally from the corner of the room. The reason we do this is because no matter where we place the speakers in the room, they will always be affected by the room's boundaries to some degree. By positioning the speakers so that they are symmetrical, any effect on the left-hand speakers’ audio should be very similar to the right speakers audio. This means that when we make adjustments we won't be doing it in a lopsided manner, due to compensating for one side of our room sounding different to the other. 59 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE lm 1m Correct: Symmetrical alignment of the speakers in your room Incorrect: This alignment will cause the speakers signals to be heard differently as they are blended with the reverberated signal of the room in different ways before reaching the ear. 60 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE AVOID WALLS Placing a speaker near a wall will usually cause the bass of the speaker to get louder. This is because of standing waves. We suggest making sure the speakers are at least a foot away from any wall. Avoid corners at all costs, as they will make our bass response very inconsistent across the low frequency range, due to most speakers’ sub ports usually being located on the back of the speaker. If this can't be avoided, then try to dampen the effect using some acoustic treatment in the corners, to try and eliminate the reverberated standing waves. y 2 Standing waves causing a rise in volume in the corners of the room & an uneven frequency response due to being too close to the walls. 61 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE To.sm To.sm — —> im 1m 2 An ideal situation, keeping symmetry with the shape of the room whilst also staying away from any walls. Think about investing in some speaker stands & acoustic treatment if you need to keep your speakers away from corners. AVOID POOR ANGLES Our speakers ideally want to be positioned in the shape of an equilateral triangle, roughly 3 feet from each other, and 3 feet from the listener. This creates the least amount of high and low frequency interference, and also positions the listener’s head nicely in the sweet spot. If our speakers are placed too far apart, this will create a hole in the centre of the mix, which will cause a producer to over compensate by creating a narrow mix-down. Likewise, having the speakers too close together, means that when the producer listens to the audio, it will all be coming directly from the front, so the tendency will be to pan extremely wide, which will make the mix very unfocused and can cause problems when summed to mono. A further point is to ensure that the speaker's tweeters are at eye level and are facing the listener directly. Some OCD producers will want their studio speakers aligned to the wall, however not only will this drastically effect the bass response, but it will also cause the mix to sound duller and less detailed than it actually is. 62 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE ot 3h 3h 3ft Incorrect: speaker placement too wide causing a hole in the mix, the producer will over compensate by panning his instruments more central which will relate to an overly narrow mix. Incorrect: speaker placement too narrow causing the producer to over-compensate by panning his instruments to the extreme. This will result in a wide & unfocused mix Correct: Speaker placement in an equilateral triangle between the listener and the two speakers. The recommended distance is 3ft apart. Symmetrical with the room and at least a foot away from walls. 63 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE AVOID PROBLEMATIC REFLECTIONS As well as our main room walls. We will also get reflections off of surfaces within the room. The main surfaces to be aware of are the surfaces between the listener and the speakers, this could be a computer monitor, mixing consoles, keyboards, desks or racks. Try to keep these bits of equipment out of the way of the speaker's projection area. Clearly not all of these items can be removed, but some producers have even gone as far as to add acoustic foam around the main areas of their desk to try and reduce these early reflections. This is also why having the tweeters at eye level is so important, as this ensures that the audio from the speakers will travel directly to the listener, instead of bouncing off other surfaces first. Speakers tweeter set at _— eye height. different ee el speakers have different —= dispersal angles. > Typically monitors are designed to travel directly to the listener with a narrow dispersion. Reflective surfaces in tame between the listener and >3 —: monitor can cause ining interference. Try to remove any clutter or — objects to keep this interference to a ‘minimum 64 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE EQUAL LOUDNESS AND LEVELS Our ears do not perceive the loudness of sound in a linear way. This has been proved by equal loudness, or fletcher-Munson curves. The basic theory is that human ears are more sensitive to the high and low frequencies of the spectrum at higher dB SPL. (Decibels sound pressure level.) Within the studio, this equates to the producer thinking that their bass is really loud because they are monitoring at 100+ dB SPL, when in fact, if they reduced the volume to 80 dB SPL, they would realise that their mix is actually lacking in low and high frequency volume. It also goes without saying that monitoring at loud volumes will increase the onset of ear fatigue, tinnitus and hearing loss. (gi Sr co Pea To eee A graph showing the equal loudness curves and main frequency ranges. 65 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE TOO MUCH LOW END If our monitors have small drivers, which are less than 8" then we can consider adding a sub-woofer to our setup. The sub-woofer isn't going to be used like many car sub woofers are; which is to add a mass amount of bass volume. The subwoofer is simply there to extend the low-frequency response of our studio, due to our small monitor drivers not being able to reproduce the low signal. This means that when we set up the subwoofer, it shouldn't actually add any extra volume. This can be checked with a sound pressure level (SPL) reader. We want to get the level as close as we can to the level of the rest of the sound system without the sub. This sub should also be set up so that it's only receiving the necessary frequencies it needs (the crossover) which will usually be set at around 80Hz. If you follow these few basic rules when setting up your speakers then you will be well on your way to a lovely sounding studio. WildClay RESPONSE (dB) 20 100 10k we. ae Using a Sub-Woofer (HS10W) marked in yellow to enhance the low end frequency response of a monitor such as the HS50M 66 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE STUDIO MONITORS SUMMARY & KEY POINTS Hifi's and docking stations use psychoacoustics to colour and warm up a signal The monitors should be a true representation of the signal Larger driver sizes will be better at reproducing the bass frequencies Keep symmetry when placing speakers between walls Avoid close proximity to walls and corners, especially rear mounted speaker ports Use acoustic treatment such as bass traps to improve a room's frequency response Avoid poor speaker angles If the speakers are too far apart, the mix-engineer may accidently produce a mix which is too narrow If the speakers are too narrow, the mix-engineer may compensate by producing a wider mix Avoid placing things between the speaker and the listener that may cause the sound to be affected in any way Extreme high and low frequencies will need to be much higher in energy to be perceived as the same loudness as other parts Ensure the sub-woofer is set up to match the volume and improve the low-end reproduction, rather than just boosting the bass volume 67 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE ACOUSTIC TREATMENT Now that we have our speakers set up, orientated and placed correctly, we can now think about how we are going to treat our room to best cope with the different issues we may have to resolve, such as: standing waves, echo, reverb, and any side reflections. STANDING WAVES: Standing waves are created from waves bouncing off walls. These will affect the whole frequency spectrum, however the mid and high range standing waves are less troublesome, and much easier to deal with than low frequency standing waves. If we play a 60Hz tone and walk around our room, we may notice a change in volume as we move around. This is the doubling and cancellation of waves. ECHO AND REVERB: These will add to a signal as it bounces off the surfaces of a room, which will add to the tail of the sound, This can sound similar to fast fluttering or ringing and can be heard if we clap our hands as we move around a room. Try clapping near a corner to see if you can hear the difference. SIDE REFLECTIONS: Side reflections are when reverberated, or reflected signals have a time-delay compared to the original audio. These micro-changes in phase will cause the audio to effectively comb filter itself, as it doubles or cancels certain frequencies. This can lead to a smeared stereo image. 68 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE ACOUSTIC TREATMENT GUIDE The majority of producers don’t have the luxury of a professional studio. Most will have a small to medium sized, untreated bedroom, which will be used for mixing tracks down in. Now is the time to get these issues sorted, lack of acoustic treatment is one of the biggest causes of frustration during the mixing process. Over the next few pages we will be seeing how we can vastly improve the acoustics of our listening environment without spending loads of money. Following on from our last section, we have a few basic rules for acoustic treatment and room setup: + Use the longest length of the room + Make sure our speakers are at equal distances from the walls + Speakers must stay away from the walls and corners + Speakers should be facing us directly + Speakers should be in an equilateral triangle formation with the listener + Each side of the triangle should be equal in length EARLY REFLECTIONS FROM THE SIDES This problem is caused when we don’t have any absorbers on our adjacent walls. This means that early reflections will bounce off these walls before reaching the listeners ear. This extra distance that the wave has to travel will add a miniscule time delay onto the wave, which will alter its phase relationship with the direct wave, resulting in some nasty phase issues. This must be avoided by using acoustic absorbers to dampen these early reflections. To make a simple absorber you will need some lengths of wood for the frame, a roll of insulation, cloth or canvas, nails and mounts. 69 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Too much insulation can make a room sound very ‘dead’, in this case try using some sound diffusers as well. The lengths of the blocks are specifically calculated to diffuse certain frequencies in a slightly more natural way. An acoustic diffuser Acoustic treatment panels 70 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE EARLY REFLECTIONS FROM THE CEILING We also need to remember that sound travels in all 3 dimensions, so we need to think about the ceiling and the floor. Flooring is quite a hard variable to control, but it helps if the room is carpeted. If it is a tiled, or wooden floor, then think about investing in a large thick rug, Which should help to dampen those frequencies that are likely to bounce off a hard floor. As for the ceiling, we can suspend an absorber similar to the one used for the walls. This should be placed in the space between the speakers and where you sit. The absorber can be placed so there is a gap between it and the ceiling. This can then be suspended by hooks as seen in the picture below. A ‘cloud’ type acoustic treatment used for a ceiling 71 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE LOW-END RUMBLE & STANDING WAVES These can be greatly reduced by using bass traps in the corners of the room. To do this, we can use any form of insulation that can be cut or fixed into all the corners of the room. These bass traps can be bought online, or we can try and make something ourselves, using slightly harder density insulation pads. Installing more bass traps isn’t going to reduce the level of the bass in our room; it is simply going to balance it. So basically we can use as much as we want without having to worry about killing off the bass in our room. Bass frequencies have very long wavelengths, which makes them more of a structural problem that involves altering room dimensions more than anything else. The best remedy is to get the right dimensions for your room: Using 2” thick acoustic foam on the walls is only really going to solve mid and high frequency issues. Bass traps Acoustic panels 72 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE FURTHER ENHANCEMENTS We can cover the back wall with any leftover treatment pads. We should be aiming to cover at least 20% of the surfaces of our room. Make sure there is nothing in our room that is likely to cause vibrations from bass frequencies. For example: paperclips in a metal container on the desk, or any metal or glass items that are touching each other. If there are any vibrations occurring, rubber is the perfect material for absorbing some of the vibrations and decoupling the sound from the material. Finally, we can double check our speakers are isolated from their stands, as well as ensuring that stands are also isolated from the floor, If we have a window in our room, try to make use of a long set of curtains to prevent waves bouncing off the glass windows and producing secondary reflections. (This is why recording studios control room glass is usually angled) Different Types of acoustic isolators & de-couplers 73 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE TESTING ROOM ACOUSTICS - TEST TONE GRAPH PLOTTING Now that we have our room treated, we are going to test how it sounds and plot a low-frequency response chart. We will need to draw a graph that looks like this: Firstly play a sine wave, starting right down at 20Hz, Turn this sine wave up just enough so that the volume is as low as possible, whilst still being able to hear it clearly. The reason we do this is because it will be easier for our ears to detect changes in volume at these lower levels. Notice that on the graph we have only plotted frequencies from 20Hz to 300Hz. This is because these low-end frequencies are going to be the most disruptive to the acoustics of our room. Now we can increase the frequency of our 20Hz sine wave, whilst keeping our head directly in between our speakers, (In the natural position that we will be mixing in.) This is important, because Moving our head to any other point in the room, even by a few inches will drastically affect the frequency response curve, As we increase the frequency, we are going to mark on the graph whether the tone gets louder, quieter, stays the same, or if we cant hear it at all. This will allow us to map out the resonant frequencies and the troughs in our audio. This can highlight to us where we may have standing waves that are cancelling and doubling at certain frequencies, 74 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE We can now join up the dots that we have marked on the graph to give us an approximate idea of our room modes. This coupled with our knowledge of standing waves, room dimensions and treatment should allows us to bring our listening environment up to more of an acceptable standard. From this graph we can see that we have a room mode at approximately 50H2z, which is also causing problems at its harmonics of 100Hz and 200H. We also have a cancellation of frequencies at around 80Hz and 160Hz. This response graph can change from even the slightest head movement in the room. 75 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE ACOUSTIC TREATMENT SUMMARY & KEY POINTS Standing waves affect the whole frequency spectrum Standing waves are most problematic below 300Hz Echo, reverb and side reflections can cause phase issues and comb filtering Set your studio up so that sound is projected down its longest length Too much insulation can cause a room to sound very dead, use diffusers as well as acoustic treatment panels Bass traps can help reduce standing waves and bass build-up in the corners of the room Low frequency standing waves are usually caused by structural problems such as the room dimensions and can't easily be fixed with thin acoustic foam At least 20% of the surfaces in our room should be acoustically treated The floor & ceiling of a room can also be acoustically treated We can plot a basic frequency response graph using a test tone and our ears or a DB SPL meter 76 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE PSYCHOACOUSTICS EXPLAINED In this section we will lay down the psychoacoustic laws and how we can use them to improve our productions, as well as how we can use this knowledge to treat our room, to provide a better listening environment. WHAT ARE PSYCHOACOUSTICS Psychoacoustics can be thought of as the way we hear and perceive sound within the brain. This is a very in depth subject; however, in this section we have collated all of the main points and expanded on them with the electronic music producer in mind, We will cover these main points: PERCEPTION IS NOT LINEAR THE HAAS EFFECT (PRECEDENCE EFFECT) MASKING CRITICAL BANDS NATURAL RESPONSE TO LOUD NOISES EQUAL LOUDNESS CURVES FLETCHER-MUNSON TO ALTER DEPTH HEARING IN RMS LOCALISATION SOUND LAYERING DISTANCE PERCEPTION PERCEPTION IS NOT LINEAR Our first point is that perception is logarithmic. This was discovered and researched by Gustav Fechner, who introduced the concept of psychoacoustics The way we perceive weight, light and most importantly, in our case, sound. Is non-linear. This can make it tricky to measure, which will be explained shortly. 77 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Firstly we need to understand frequency ranges. The human ears can detect frequencies in the range of 20Hz - 20KHz. This is due to their inner and outer structure, as well as how our brain processes the neural signals sent from the cochlea. Anatomy of the human ear 78 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Threshold of feeling Sound pressure level (48) Threshold of nearing 20Hz 50 100 200 500 1k 2k Sk 10k 20KMz Frequency The frequency range of human hearing: Threshold of hearing at 0dB SPL to the threshold of pain at 120dB SPL. The perceived loudness of sound at different frequencies is also non-linear. Our ears will need a very low frequency, of say a 100Hz sine wave, to be much louder for us to perceive it as the same volume as a sine wave at 1KHz. DYNAMIC RANGE The dynamic range of human hearing is defined by the threshold of human hearing, (The lower limit.) and the threshold of pain. (The upper limit.) The threshold of pain is relatively unbiased to frequency, and is capped at around 120dB SPL, which is roughly equivalent to being stood next to a jet as it takes off. The threshold of hearing however, is much more frequency dependant, which can be proved with equal loudness, or fletcher-Munson curves, which will be explained shortly. 79 The threshold of human hearing can be defined by a 1KHz sine wave measured at 20 micro-Pascal’s, which is the equivalent of 0dB SPL. Just to put this into perspective, the blood rushing through your veins is louder than this, and can be heard if you are in an anechoic chamber. (A chamber that has almost no reverberations.) Also known as a silent room. Armed with this basic knowledge, we can now tackle some of the phenomenon of the psychoacoustic domain. An anechoic chamber THE HAAS EFFECT (THE PRECEDENCE EFFECT) This is where two near identical sounds, (or an early reflection of a sound) that are no further than 35ms apart, and are within 10 dB of each other, will be interpreted as one sound. 80 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE A good way to test this theory is to stand 10m from a concrete wall and clap. You should be able to hear the reverberated signal separately as it bounces off the concrete wall and back to your ears. This is because the reverberated sound is roughly 60ms or 20 metres (10m there & 10m back) apart from the original sound. (Sound travels at 343m per second (or 1125ft per second.) This approximates to around (1ms = 1ft) or (3ms = imetre) If you keep clapping, whilst moving closer to the wall, try and stop when you can no longer tell the difference between the two sounds and they just become one unified sound, You will be roughly 5m from the wall. This is due to being half the distance, the clap now returns to your ears in half the time, which is 30ms. This is the time window where humans can no longer distinguish between the two separate sounds. (The outer time frame of the Haas effect.) With this in mind, we can use this knowledge to enhance the stereo image of a sound. For example, we can take a clap sound and duplicate it. Pan one clap hard-left, and the other one hard to the right. At the moment, all this will do is increase the loudness of the sound. However, if we now delay one of these signals by between 5-35ms, we will be changing the frequency information in each separate channel, making our sound very wide. As long as we keep this below 35ms, our ears will still think that this is one sound. A caveat to this is that if we go above 5ms, we will start to hear the sounds separate. Going below Sms will result in metallic and ‘phasey’ or ‘whooshy’ sounds. 81 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE The Haas window can change slightly, depending on if the type of sound is a transient, or a sustained note. But generally it will be anywhere between 0-40ms. Mono Track Original 1-35 ms Delay The Haas effect. A mono track is sent to both left ad right, but one channel is delayed up to 35ms. 82 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE +10 -10 Relative 68 20 40 60 80 ms 68 13.6 204 272M Time/Distance A graph showing the Haas effect window in milliseconds, and meters. Within this window, two sounds will be perceived as being one. MASKING If two sounds with very similar frequency content play at the same time, and in the same stereo field within a mix, the louder sound will drown out, or 'mask' the quieter sound. For example: If two people are having a conversation, we can hear them perfectly. However, if they are on a busy street, and a bus was to drive past, there's a high chance that we would struggle to make out their conversation. This is due to their voices being masked by similar frequencies from the bus, and surroundings. So basically masking can be thought of as the ‘drowning out’ of sounds, due to louder sounds, (and their harmonics) in the same frequency ranges. CRITICAL BANDS This states that masking only occurs over a certain bandwidth, for example: if a narrow band of white noise at 2KHz is played over a 2KHz sine wave, we won't hear the sine wave. As we alter the bandwidth, frequency, or amplitude of the sine wave, the masking effect will change. 83 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE A narrow band of white noise at say 8KHz will have little to no masking effect on a 2KHz sine wave, regardless of amplitude because these frequency ranges are too far apart. On the other hand, if we pushed the bandwidth of the white noise to maximum, meaning that it is the same amplitude throughout the entire frequency spectrum then we are not going to hear the sine wave over the white noise. NATURAL EAR PROTECTION TO LOUD NOISES The human ear naturally shuts down to protect the cochlea when it is subject to loud noises. We can think of this as a self-defence mechanism to protect our hearing. We can replicate this by playing a loud noise, then quickly reducing the sound, before bringing it back up again. This is done throughout music production to make sounds seem louder than they are. From big EDM drops right down to on a transient level. Some producers get up real close in waveform view and create small fades, or attenuations in volume in between the transient and tone of a sound to further accentuate and empower its impact. This is also done very well in film sound design, for sounds such as explosions and gunshots. EQUAL LOUDNESS CURVES As we mentioned in the introduction of this article, the ear perceives the loudness of a sound dependant on the frequency. This was discovered by Fletcher and Munson, who did a lot of research to produce the fletcher-Munson curves, (also commonly known as equal loudness curves.) their findings were that at high volumes, a sound will appear to have more high and low end. Monitoring at low volumes is better for balancing, and gives a more true representation of the sound, (As well as being less damaging to the ears.) 84 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Drawing from this knowledge that at loud levels the low and high frequency content sounds louder, we can also figure out that by Slightly Scooping out mid-frequency content, & boosting highs & lows when listening at low volumes, we can make a mix be perceived as louder and closer, When in reality all we have done is tricked the brain into thinking its listening at a louder level by reducing the mid frequencies slightly FLETCHER-MUNSON TO ALTER DEPTH To make sounds appear further away, roll off the high frequencies. This simulates sound dissipation through air. This is because our ears can sense depth perception by the ratio between mid frequency content and high & low frequency content. As sound travels through air, the high frequencies are dampened or attenuated faster than the mid and low frequencies due to the size of their wavelength. (Which is inversely proportional to frequency). EARS HEAR SOUND IN AN AVERAGE WAY (RMS) A sustained sound at any given volume will be perceived as louder than a transient at any given volume. (Ears perceive loudness by RMS values.) This is why, when we use compression to raise the body of a sound we think it's louder or punchier than beforehand, even though the peak level is the same due to raising its RMS. value. Fundamentally, this rule governs the whole concept of why we use compression to reduce dynamic range, as well as why we use as much head room within a mix as possible to achieve the loudest perceived signal possible. By combining the precedence effect and the way our ears detect loudness in an RMS type manner, we can beef up sounds using a reverbs early reflections. By adding these early reflections we will be boosting the RMS value of the body of the sound, And as we know, a higher RMS value equates to a louder (and fuller) perceived 85 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE sound, due to making the sounds waveform more similar to a sustained note rather than a transient. Provided our early reflections are <35ms from the original signal, we will hear this as one unified sound rather than an initial sound and its reflection. Making sure we don't include the late reflections is important, as this will prevent us from altering the depth perception of the sound. A transient with a high transient peak, whilst having a low RMS value. Increasing the RMS value by increasing the gain of the early reflections only HIGHER RMS VOLUME The new waveform that is perceived as louder, due to its higher RMS value. A sustained waveform, which will be perceived as being very loud due to having an RMS value, which will be very similar to its peak value. 86 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE LOCALISATION Localisation is how the brain figures out the directional positioning of a given sound. This positioning of sounds can be tricky to get right within the confines of a DAW. We can split the way our brain locates sounds into a few headings, which have been put into priority order. Inter-aural time difference (ITD) - this is the time difference between the left and right ear, if we clap to the front, this will be fairly equal. However if we clap to the left, we know instantly that the sound is coming from the left, due to the sound reaching the right ear a fraction of a second later than that of the left ear. Inter-aural amplitude difference (IAD) - This is similar to ‘ITD’, however this is for amplitudes instead, and is most prevalent in the higher frequencies. It's worth noting that ‘IAD’ will be overridden by ‘ITD’ if the two theories contradict each other. For example if we dropped a coin on the floor by your right ear, the sound would reach the right ear first, shortly followed by the left. If for some reason the amplitude of the coin were louder in the left ear, our brain would still interpret the sound as coming from the right ear as the ‘ITD’ takes precedence over the ‘IAD’. Next we have the ears construction. Due to the shape of the ear, (the pinnae) it is designed to channel sounds into the ear canal, but the shape will muffle sounds approaching from the rear. Because of this anatomy, our brains perceive sounds that are lacking high frequencies, to be coming from the rear, Also micro movements of the head, and differences in high frequency content in the left and right ears, help us to hone in on the sound source, 87 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE INTER-AURAL TIME DIFFERENCE (ITD) .°207ms SOUND PERCEIVED AS COMING FROM THE RIGHT A diagram to show how the ears can make directional judgement from receiving a signal at slightly different times. INTER-AURAL yess AMPLITUDE Ihr DIFFERENCE (IAD) 85 dBspl .”” 85.3 dBspl SOUND PERCEIVED AS (COMING FROM THE RIGHT A diagram to show how the ears can judge direction by the difference in amplitude of a signal in each ear, as well as the difference in harmonic content. 88 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE LAYERING SOUNDS With masking in mind, our ears struggle to differentiate between two sounds of similar frequency content, when played at the same time. This means that when layering sounds, our ears don't hear two disparate sounds but simply hear one new blended sound instead. We can layer and blend different tones and textures together to create a new more complex sound DEPTH PERCEPTION Depth perception relies on reverberant patterns. (A reverb signals timing, in relation to surfaces around you.) This is comparable to how bats use echo sounding to see. By listening to how their squeaks bounce back off their surroundings, they are able to map out the dimensions of an acoustic space. Depth perception also heavily relies on the dry to wet reverb ratio, This is fairly easy to understand, the further away a sound is, the less detail and clarity can be heard, and the more the sound of the room or reverberate signal will be heard in relation to the original. Our distance perception also relies on being able to detect the dampening of high frequencies as a sound travels though air. As mentioned earlier Air absorbs high frequencies much more than mid and lower frequencies over large distances due to the size of their wavelength. For us to know if a sound’s high frequencies have been rolled off, the Sound needs to be familiar to us in the first place. A good example of this would be the human voice, Or a familiar instrument such as the piano. Our brains can then use the memory of this sound as a reference point. 89 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE PSYCHOACOUSTICS SUMMARY & KEY POINTS + Psychoacoustics is the study of sound perception. Specifically the psychological & physiological responses associated with sound. + Perception of light, weight and sound is non-linear, which can make it difficult to measure + The threshold of human hearing is 0 dB SPL + The threshold of pain is 120 dB SPL + 0 dB SPL = 20 micro Pascal's + The Haas effect can be used to make sounds appear wider (up to 35ms) + Masking is when one sound is drowned out by another sound of similar frequency content + The ear naturally shuts down to protect the cochlea when it is subject to loud noises + Monitoring at low volumes is better for balancing + Ears perceive sustained sounds as being louder than short sounds of the same amplitude (this is the basis for why compression is perceived as increased loudness) * The brain uses localisation and differences in time and amplitude to place sounds within a stereo field + Sounds with less high content are deemed as being further away than brighter sounds 90 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE MIXING TECHNOLOGY AND EQUIPMENT Even for the bedroom producers, it is still useful to know how a professional studio is laid out, and the basic equipment in it, in case we ever end up mixing in one. THE MIXING CONSOLE This is the hub of the studio, with everything connected to it. From here we will be performing most of our mixing duties. This is also where we will be summing our individual tracks down to one stereo audio file. The mixing console can be used to send and return signals to different areas of the studio, such as effects rack and processors. We also have some controls built into the console such as EQ’s, and sometimes compressors. THE PATCH BAY This is how the mixing console is connected to all the equipment in the studio. Think of this as all of the wiring in the studio. Rather than having to go into the back of the console, all of the wiring will go straight to the patch bay, Usually the patch bay will have hard wirings to the inputs and outputs of the soundcard and the console, as well as having routings to all of the effects and processing racks. This means that we can effectively route any channel, to and from anywhere, using the patch bay and one or two patch cables. The patchbay 91 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE OUTBOARD EQUIPMENT Outboard equipment is external hardware, FX units or processors such as compressors, reverbs, and delays. These will commonly be mounted in racks and wired into our patch bay. THE DAW (DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATION) This is a program on a computer that we are going to use to host our session electronically and save the files, so we can come back and work on our mix whenever we want, without the need to manually recall fader and knob settings. Popular DAW’s are: + Ableton Live + Logic Pro + Cubase + Pro-tools The DAW is linked to the soundcard, which will feed the information back and forth from the console and the speakers. We want to make sure our soundcard has enough inputs and outputs to be able to utilize all the channels on the desk, We may also want backup hard drives for the computer, and in some cases we may also use external DSP hosting hardware to take the CPU strain off of our computer when dealing with a large amount of tracks. STUDIO MONITORS We have already covered these in great detail, but these will usually comprise of two or three different sets of speakers, that will be wired into the console via a monitoring control box, which allows us to switch between set reference volumes, and different speakers. DIGITAL VERSUS ANALOG Many top mix engineers that used to mix using analog hardware are now mixing completely in the box (ITB). This is thanks to the advancements in digital technology and the plethora of very accurate analog emulation plugins. (VST’s and AU's.) 92 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Mixing in the box is most likely how many of us will be mixing, due to the space and financial limitations of having our own hardware and a studio. When mixing in the box we recommend fully researching plugins before buying them. Only buy them if we could really benefit from them. This will force us to learn a plugin inside and out, and know exactly how to get the best possible results out of it. Too many times we have seen producers either download massive bundles, or manage to find a cracked version of software, only for it to sit on their list of VST’s never to be used, because they also have hundreds of other plugins that they haven’t taken the time to learn. Half of which are unlikely to work properly anyway because they are cracked, Whilst many producers use cracked software, we highly recommend purchasing the licenses properly. This helps support the companies that develop and create the VSTs, as well as protect the producer/mix-engineer from any potential legal implications due to making money from productions whilst using cracked software. This also means we will stay up to date with any new versions and bug fixes. Many older producers however, still prefer to mix in an analog style because much of the old equipment, such as the SSL desks give sounds a warmer colour due to the analog circuitry & analog summing. Digital signals tend to sound colder and less vibrant than analog. MIXING TECHNOLOGY AND EQUIPMENT SUMMARY & KEY POINTS + Apatch bay is used to send signals around a studio, to and from different hardware or locations + Outboard equipment is external hardware, effects units or processors + DAW stands for digital audio workstation; Ableton live, Logic Pro, Pro-tools and Cubase are the main competitors + \VSTs and AUs are software instruments and FX; These can emulate outboard gear from within the software (in the box) + Many producers prefer the characteristics that analogue hardware can impart on a sound + It's better to build up a collection of legitimate VSTs slowly, rather than resorting to downloading cracked versions that don't work correctly 93 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE MIX PREPARATION In this section we will take a look at how we can prepare the project, ready to start the mix-down process. Having a tidy mix allows us to focus on more important tasks, such as creativity, rather than trying to find a specific instrument or control. A large portion of the mix-down is down to good preparation, the rest is inspiration, creativity and mixing skills. Preparation however, is not mixing. Think of it more as a preliminary organizational task, which is essential to mixing, Mix preparation is where we draw the final line in the sand between the end of the production and compositional phase, and the start of the mixing phase. There should be no turning back at this point, unless we've made a monumental error that requires us to reload the entire project. This phase gives us a chance to listen to the entire mix and check that there are no obvious mistakes that have been overlooked, as well as to get a grasp on the management, organization and navigation of our track. The end result that we are after is the best possible mix-down that we can achieve. The best way to do this, is to start off with a mix that is well organized, and labelled. This will make navigation and workflow much easier, which means we will do a much better job of mixing the project. Colour coding, grouping and renaming tracks for ease of navigation 94 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE BITDEPTH & SAMPLE RATE Firstly, make sure that when we get the files, that we are working in whatever bit-depth and sample rate the files are given to us in. typically, this will be 24Bit 44.1KHz or 48KHz, but may be higher or lower. TRACK ARRANGEMENT MARKER MAPPING Use the arrangement markers in arrangement view, to map out the different sections of our track, these can then be key-mapped, to allow for quick playback of different sections. These can then be placed at the intro, outro, verses, and chorus points of your track. (Bar 17, 33 etc.) Using locators within the Ableton Live arrangement view SIDECHAIN TRIGGER TRACKS Set up a new track next to the arrangement-mapping track. Use a short sample or a midi sampler with a short sample loaded into it, which can easily be manipulated via an ADSR envelope. This is going to be used as our side-chain trigger, so we don’t have to mess around with our kick in the session. We can now make a kick pattern that stems the entire length of the track arrangement, so that when we drop a track into the project, We can now use this as the side-chain trigger source. We can also go in and edit the side-chain midi notes if we wish to remove side- chaining for the break sections etc. RENAMING & COLOURING Try to get into the habit of renaming from the production and composition phase. All of our tracks should be clearly labelled, and so should all of the clips within our tracks. 95 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE We should be using a colour coding system that we can apply across all of our projects. We suggest: + Brown for bass * Orange for drums * Red for synths * Green for vocals * Purple for strings & pads * Blue for FX it may help to use different colours for other elements, such as low and high-end sub-mixes. This also includes renaming any auxiliary’s and busses, so we can see at a glance where each of them are routed, and what they are doing. REMOVE LOW-END RUMBLE This can be done in either the production, or preparation phase. It is good practice to ensure we have EQ’s set up on all of our tracks that roll off any frequencies that shouldn’t be there below around 20-40Hz. Some producers prefer to get all of the mundane jobs such as this done right at the very start, before mixing. This allows them to make the most of their creative flow. TRACK COUNT REDUCTION We may have two mono claps, panned slightly away from each other to add width to a snare, Instead of having to group them together or process them separately, bounce the two claps to a single stereo file. Try not to do this together with snare samples as well, as we may want to change the tonal characteristics, EQ, or dynamics, relative to the claps, which will be very hard to control if they are rendered together. Another reason that we do this is because as soon as we start mixing, time is completely stacked against us. The longer we spend listening to a track, the more we will become emotionally connected to it and lose that objective way of thinking that helps us to stay focused and unbiased towards the mix. 96 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE GROUPING & SUBMIXING TRACKS Group the different tracks into stem categories such as drums, percussion, bass, vocals, pads, synths, low-end, high-end, etc. This will give us greater control over automating groups of instruments, as well as making tweaks and adjustments, Grouping and Bussing is also useful for when we want to apply effects to an entire group of sounds. An example of this is when using room reverb, or glue compression on a drum rack to make it gel and sound like it is coming from the same space. DOUBLE CHECK TUNING AND TIMING OF PARTS This goes without saying. At this point, everything production and composition wise should be spot on so we don’t have to waste time trying to make further timing or tuning corrections later on. Also at this point, set up any send/return busses that we may wish to use with the appropriate plugins applied. Keep the device activator switches turned off until needed, this will save CPU if we are working on a large project. Turning these effects on, only when they are needed will keep from eating up our valuable processing power and slowing down the computer. If we have received the track in the form of stems, then we'll usually find that we have a whole bunch of 1-clip tracks, each stemming from 1.1.1. Right through to the end of the track, with big blocks of silence in between. In Logic there is a feature where we can quickly remove the silence. In Ableton however, we will have to divide the clips up and remove the silence manually. Ensure to add crossfades to the start and end of all our clips just in case there are any pops or clips that need to be removed, BOUNCE TO AUDIO Once our track is ready for mix-down. Make sure to commit to the mix-down phase by rendering our tracks down to audio. This will prevent us from spending days going back in to make adjustments and tweaks that will just take us round in circles and waste precious time. 97 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Bouncing to audio also means that our project will be reset to unity gain (Odbfs) on all of the faders. There will also be no processing power taken up by plugins from the composition phase. Further to this, we will be able to load the project file into a DAW mixing template. DAW MIXING TEMPLATES We can set up all of the below settings we can save our blank project as a mixing template: * Buffer and latency settings * Send & return channels * Default audio and midi tracks + Master channels * Side-chain track * Arrangement track * Default settings for devices This will save us from repeating the same processes every time we mix a track as well as saving us valuable time in the long run. TRACK STRUCTURE CHANNEL Create a blank midi channel and map out a typical arrangement of a track in a genre of our choice. We can even import a favourite reference track to copy its structure. This can then be mapped out using midi clips, which can be colour coded and renamed. We can then save this as a default set, so that every project we work in has a rough guide of sections at the top of the arrangement view. When we import different tracks for mixing, we can then shuffle the midi clips around to fit our track. We recommend colour coding and renaming these sections such as: intro, verse, break, chorus etc. SETTING UP A STEREO/MASTER BUS COMPRESSOR A common technique used when mixing a track, is to balance parts straight into a mix bus compressor on the master output. This is one of the final processors, which is going to glue the elements of our tracks together. Many producers find that trying to put this compressor on right at the end of the mix process means that the whole track has to be re-balanced into the compressor, so instead, it helps to either keep the compressor on, with certain settings from 98 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE the very start, or find a rough mix balance, then put the compressor on and continue from there. The compressor should be set up so it is barely affecting the signal. Settings may need to be tweaked later on, but good starting settings are: * Ratio - between 1.5:1 and 2:1 * Threshold - allow for between 1 - 4dBs of gain reduction * Attack - slow attack + Release - slow release, auto release, or a setting that allows the compressor to reset between hits in a smooth manor that compliments the groove There is a further book in this series dedicated entirely to compression, which will cover this subject in much more detail. IMPORTING & FILE MANAGEMENT We can either import our audio files using the browser or we can simply drag them into the DAW. We should make sure that we copy all of our files to a place on our hard disk, and ensure that the project, samples, and info folders are included, by pressing ‘collect all and save’. This is especially crucial for DAW’s such as Logic, which have a tendency to crash unexpectedly, Especially in its more recent updates. Nothing is worse than being 5 hours into a mixing session, which is going really well, only to lose the whole project because of a power outage. Pro-tools has an auto-save function that can save and recall a snapshot of the project at certain time intervals, such as every 5 minutes. Remember to save regular backups, especially when making big decisions. Alternatively use the ‘save a copy’ function if you wish to make alternative versions in case you need to flick back to a previous point in the mix process. MACRO MANAGEMENT AND HANDLES We can manipulate each of our sound sources, and set up quick controls to be able to sculpt and fit sounds from different channels together, into the mix quickly & efficiently. In Ableton Live this is made very simple with the power of racks and macro controls. 99 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE We can set up these ‘handles’ for our sounds so we can control any number of properties of the sound, such as: * Dynamics + Tonal balance * Filtering * Volume * Equalization * Spatial placement within the stereo field + Width * Modulation We can use these handles or multi-device racks, to solve common mixing problems that we may get asked, such as: “Make the kick punchier” “Make the vocal more upfront and present.” “Widen the drums” “Put the pads in the background” Using macro's to create custom handles for complete contro! of Ableton Live 100 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE REFERENCES AND A/B COMPARISON If we are mixing for someone else, we should ask for some reference tracks with a similar vibe to the result they want from the mix-down, If we're mixing our own track, then we can also do the same. A brilliant referencing plugin is sample magic’s MAGIC A-B. This allows us to load, edit and loop a number of reference tracks, for quick A-Bing at the touch of a button. The tracks we decide to use should sound great on a variety of platforms. Don’t use low quality compressed mp3 files. We will need to use lossless audio for our reference tracks such as .Wav or .Aiff. When referencing remember to pay particular attention to the comparison in dynamics, layering, width/narrowness of the mix, depth, muddiness of mid and low frequency content, overall EQ and tone, This will help give a different and comparable perspective to our track, relative to the reference, which (providing your reference is of high quality) will result in a much better final mix. COMPUTERS & THEIR SETTINGS FOR MIXING Here is a list of specifications that are nice to have if we are going to be doing a lot of mixing on our computer. * i5 or i7 processors * Large/dual display © 2.7MHz++ clock speed * Quad core++ * SSD or FUSION drives Fusion combines a small SSD (solid state drive) with a standard disk hard drive and allocates the space, dependent on the most frequently used items, which can be edited in the settings. 101 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE BUFFER SIZES & LATENCY Buffer sizes within the DAW can be set relatively high because latency isn’t really an issue at the mixing stage: The larger the buffer size - the bigger the latency, a larger latency means less load on the CPU. It isn’t having to process alll the plugins and effects as often, on a sample-by-sample basis, but rather it processes the data in chunks of every 256, 512, or 1024 samples. Latency & buffer size settings in Ableton's preferences FREEZING AND FLATTENING This technique is mainly used during the actual mix process, but is worth mentioning early, so we can apply it as and when is necessary in our mix. Computers with low CPU processing or projects containing lots of tracks and third party VST and AU plugins can really struggle to keep up with the processing workload, This can be resolved by freezing certain tracks in the arrangement. Freezing a track will render that tracks audio, so that the processing is already applied. (Such as compression and any effects plugins) This will effectively lock the track and plugins from any further editing, but will stop the track from taking up real-time CPU processing power. The track can be ‘unfrozen’ at any point to allow us to change any parameters. When tracks are frozen they can then be ‘flattened’ to audio, which will remove all plugins and bounce the track in place to an audio file, This can also be achieved by simply dragging and dropping the frozen tracks audio into a new audio track. 102 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE MIX PREPARATION SUMMARY & KEY POINTS + Atracks compositional decisions should not be altered after the mix preparation phase * Standard audio CD quality is 44.1KHz, 16bit + Use track arrangement markers to move quickly between sections of a project * Set a separate side-chain trigger track which can be set ina default template + Name and colour all files correctly + Remove low-end rumble from recordings and samples (20- 40Hz) + Reduce the amount of tracks within a project (backing vocals in particular) + Group similar tracks together and set up sub-mix busses + Double check the timing and tuning of all parts + Bouncing the track to audio will stop any further tweaking and also allow faders to be set to unity gain when re-imported (unity gain = 0dB + on the fader) + Build a DAW mixing template with standard go-to settings for the project, tracks and devices + Make a midi channel at the top of the DAW, which can be used to plot the structure of your track + If required, set up a master bus compressor + Set up 'macros' and ‘handles’ which can be midi mapped for complete control of the project + Find a good selection of reference tracks in the same genre you wish to produce 103 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Make sure your reference tracks output is set to stereo out and that they are level matched with each other and your project small buffer sizes are used for recording, larger buffer sizes can be used later on in the production process for mixing A larger buffer size introduces more latency a larger buffer size will also reduce the CPU load on the computer To further reduce CPU, freeze and flatten any tracks containing labour intensive plugins 104 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE MIX PREP: TRACK ANALYSIS OBJECTIVITY & SEPARATION OF MIX PHASES The first time we listen to a track will be the most objective time we will ever hear it. This is when we are going to make subconscious decisions, (hopefully) without any bias towards the track. It helps if we haven't had any input into the production or composition of the track. By being too involved with a track pre mix-down, we will have heard the track so many times that we will either, already be frustrated with the track, or will be too attached to certain aspects or techniques that we employed in the composition of it. A combination of all of these different reasons will equate to us no longer having an objective ear, like that of a label A&R or a consumer. Likewise the modern producer has had to adapt to being able to multi-task and fill a number of roles in the studio. To that end its important that we treat the production and mix- down as two completely separate phases. Once we enter the mix- down phase, we shouldn't be revisiting the production phase. All the tracks that are needed should be there, ready to be mixed. No further tracks should be added, and likewise we shouldn’t be making any further adjustments. Adding more parts at this stage will lead into a spiralling circle of time wastage & tweaking, only to increase the onset of ear fatigue and frustration with the track. Another reason why the first listen is so important, is because this is one of the only opportunities we're going to get to fully immerse ourselves in the perspective of the listener. We have absolutely no idea how consumers will hear our track, it could be on anything from a set of headphones, to walking past a kitchen window with music on inside, Because there are so many variables with how consumers will hear our tracks, its important that we really put that first listen to good use with a fresh mind. Due to the reasons above, we need to make an educated decision whether we should try mixing our own track, or whether its for the greater good that we pass our track on to a professional mix engineer to achieve a better result. 105 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Whilst most mix engineers will very easily be able to see which direction we want to go with the track, and how we want it mixed down, every mix engineer works differently. Look into some different mix engineers, and listen to what artists producing similar music are saying, There are no issues with using a professional mix engineer, they are paid to do what they do best, and usually have many years of experience. Second to this they are also only focusing on one specific task, which is mixing our creation down into one stereo file, whereas taking the task on ourselves is just another task out of many, which may not get the full time and attention it deserves. Most mix engineers are going to have access to professional studio equipment, which can be utilized to get better audio quality, whether that’s loudness, or a more crisp/warmer sound. Finally our last point, the mix engineer has never heard our track before. We will assume that we are going to take the bull by the horns and attempt to mix our own track down, but we will firstly mention mixing other peoples tracks. MIXING SOMEONE ELSES TRACK If we are mixing someone else’s track, then the producer will usually send us a DIY mix-down that they have done, to help us better understand the direction in which they wish to go with the track, as well as some notes on what they want us to do. (Or not to do as the case may be.) We are going to use this DIY mix-down for the first listen. The first listen shouldn't be too analytical. The objective here is simply to get a feel for the track and see what subconscious emotions it invokes. Have a listen to the way it has been mixed so far, and how the instruments gel together as a whole. At this point we may notice things that need to be rectified straight away, try not to hone in on them too much for now. Just listen to the track and make a note of any gut instincts. The second time we hear this track, we should be looking at it from an analytical perspective. At this point we should be in the studio with a notepad, ready to write down bullet points as we listen through the track. 106 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Things to take note of: Timing Pitch Arrangement Dynamics Textures Relative levels of specific parts Tonal balance + Panning + Stereo field & Width + Separation of parts occupying similar frequency ranges We should do this process a few times over, switching between different speaker setups, such as our nearfields, the radio style speaker and also some headphones. This not only allows us to analyse the mix from a few a consumers perspective, but it will also reveals flaws with the mix-down, and how it translates to different sound systems. Remember that the mix-down wants to create a nice balance between parts, and can sound very different dependent on the speaker setup. MIXING OUR OWN TRACK Mixing our own track is going to prove a slightly more laborious task. First and foremost, we need to treat the production and mix phases separately. When we are mixing our track we need to remember that we are no longer the producer that composed the track, and therefore sometimes we need to remove effects and plugins and take a few steps back, so we can then rebuild the desired vibe from the ground up, and take that leap forward to a better quality track. We no longer have the advantage of the first listen of our track, so we need to take steps to try and give ourselves a second opportunity of the first listen. Unfortunately the only real factor that will help us in this case is time, Once we have finished the production of the track, put it away in a folder, ready for mixing and try to work on another project. (this is why we recommend working on a few projects simultaneously) 107 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Over a few weeks we can distance ourselves from the track, enough that we can make better judgment calls when we decide its time for the mix-down. This is evident on a smaller scale when we are producing late into the night and get some sleep, the next day we can make quick decisions on the production, that our fatigued brain couldn’t make the night before. MIX CHECKLIST We can quickly work through this mix checklist to ensure any major mix preparation tasks have been carried out: All production decisions should now have been finalized DAW blank mixing template loaded No further instrumentation or FX should be added to the mix All tracks should be printed to audio files to free up CPU Ensure all timing and tuning is correct, especially vocals Reduce the amount of tracks by bouncing them to stems Load reference tracks into DAW Set up mix bus compressor if used Track structure channel loaded Set up locator markers Set up any macros/smart controls Tracks grouped Set up side-chain trigger Check that the correct bit-depth & sample rate is set Colour code tracks Rename tracks 108 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE TRACK ANALYSIS SUMMARY & KEY POINTS The first time we hear a track is when we will hear it most objectively The composition, mix and master phases should all be kept separate Being too involved with a track can lead to us making biased mix decisions We must keep in mind how different listeners will hear our track We should be analyzing the timing, pitch, arrangement, dynamics, texture, balance, panning, width and separation of parts when we are listening to the mix for a second time Switch between different speakers when analyzing a mix Distance ourselves from the track, by working on other tracks simultaneously or by leaving the track alone for a few weeks prior to mix-down Before we start the track, ensure that the mix-prep checklist has been completed 109 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE GAIN STAGING WHAT IS GAIN STAGING? Gain staging is the process we use to solve a common problem, ‘going into the red’ or digital clipping. Digital clipping is a cardinal sin within the world of DAWs and software. A computer is not able to accurately produce parts of a sound wave that exceed OdBFS (full scale). Back when we used big analog mixing desks, we would measure the level in dBu. OdBu, being a solid reference level (0.775v), +4dBu is the level used to give the best signal to noise ratio attainable. (1.228 volts) Pushing past this level can cause distortion. Sometimes these driven & distorted signals are pleasing to the ear, this however is not the case. Software signal flow should never exceed OdBFS. OdBFS is effectively the maximum limit of loudness attainable from the software. There's nowhere to go beyond this point, so it’s important that we stay well below it in level throughout our entire track. The amount by which we stay below this Odbfs level is known as ‘headroom’. We can think of headroom, as building up cumulatively throughout a track. So we could start with a drum that peaks at -15dB, Once we mix in the rest of the drum group, this may now be at -7dB. Then once we add in the rest of the instruments, they will sum together and the next thing we know we are completely out of headroom and the master is clipping at +5dBs. To prevent this, we need to employ gain staging, which is where we monitor and control the gain at all phases throughout the signal flow and mix-down process. The reason we need headroom is to stop volume fluctuations in the mix causing the signal to go above OdBFs. The better balanced our mix is, the less fluctuations we will have. Having fewer fluctuations, means we can push our headroom closer to OdBFs without clipping, which in turn means we can achieve a louder mix. Many mastering engineers will expect a mix to have between -6 & - 3dBs of headroom for them to be able to work with. Applying a DIY limiter to the mix process is fine, but don’t leave this on, as this will use up headroom, as well as ruin remaining dynamic range that the mastering engineer has to work with. 110 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE GUIDE TO GAIN STAGING IN OUR MIX It is important to use gain staging in order to preserve maximum fidelity on the faders for fine adjustments. A fader is most accurate around 0dB, the further down we pull the fader, the less accuracy we will have for adjustments. RECORDING Although this first point isn’t part of the mix-down process, it’s important to track our vocals at the correct gain going into the channel when recording. With a mixing desk, this will usually be between -6dB and OdB. When we put this into a DAW, this RMS value should be between - 12 and -16dBFs. We shouldn't be seeing any peaks higher than -6dBs. If a signal has been recorded ‘too hot’ there is not a great deal that can be done to rectify it, other than by adjusting the input gain and trying again. Adjusting the channel fader in a DAW will not alter the input gain. It will only alter the playback volume, which will not rectify the issue, INDIVIDUAL TRACK GAINS A standard error with mixing is to have all of the individual channel volumes too high. This is easily rectified by setting up our default channel presets at a lower volume, which should help us get into the habit of keeping each track with approximately 12 - 18dBs of headroom. A problem with this however, is that we now won't have unity gain set on all of our faders. (Faders set to zero.) Another way of resolving this issue is to use a utility plugin as an insert, and pull the gain down on this. By doing this we are keeping the channel fader free for adjustments later on, and also reducing the gain at the start of the signal chain so that we aren’t running a hot signal into any plugins that we may decide to use. This also means that individual tracks will sum together to give more head room in the mix busses. 111 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE MIX BUSSES Our strategy is to move from the source, through the signal path, making sure that our gains are set with plenty of headroom at every step of the way. This ensures that we are slowly increasing the gain throughout the process in a controlled manner, rather than just boosting it all at one point and creating a clipped signal later on in the chain. Here at the mix-bus, we may be summing a number of different parts. Problems often arise with drum busses, where we may have a number of very strong transients sounding at the same time. The sum of these transients will usually cause peaks and clipping, typically on the 2nd and 4th beat of a bar in house music, as this is when the clap, snare, and kick are likely to hit at the same time. At the mix bus input stage we should still have a decent amount of headroom, by this point in the signal chain our mix should be well balanced and we shouldn't see any crazy fluctuations or peaks on the bus channel. This is also the place where we would apply bus compression to tame any of these stronger transients, as well as using EQ to make tonal adjustments and notch out any unwanted frequencies, which will aid in creating more headroom. A good figure to work to when leaving the output of the mix bus, is around -3dBs to -6dBs, dependent on our type of audio. And what we intend to do with the mix-down, At this point its not uncommon for a number of busses to then be summed together yet again to a further summing or pre-master bus. This is where any final adjustments and gain staging can be made. This also means that we have the opportunity to treat all of our separate mix busses separately whilst still giving them one final summing bus treatment to give the mix a cohesive sound. The output of the Pre-master can once again be around -6 to -3dBs. Many mastering engineers will be grateful for any amount of headroom whatsoever. Finally we have the master bus. Here is where we can apply our DIY mastering chain, typically consisting of: a) * Compression * Stereo treatment/widening * Limiting 112 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE At this point we can use maximizers and limiters to bolster the gain. This could be anywhere from -6dB of headroom, right up to as loud as -0.01dbs. A fairly standard level is -0.3dBs for .Wav files or - 0.58 if the track is intended for mp3. We will cover limiting in a later book in this mix series, however just as a quick tip, we recommend not brick wall limiting. (Smashing the input gain into a limiter to get an increase in volume at the expense of dynamic range) Applying more than around 4dB of gain reduction on a final limiter is usually a sign of a poor mix-down, which can easily be rectified by going through the mix and checking the balance, gain staging and peaks of all the parts at each of the stages listed above and fine-tuning. We can find the instruments which are causing the limiter to kick in and treat these elements at source as we feel appropriate, then we will find that when we go back to the limiter, we should now only need to push the limiter by 1 or 2 dBs in order to increase the RMS level of our track to a decent perceived loudness. If we do this correctly, we won't be squashing as much dynamic range out of our track at the final stage. Remember to remove this DIY mastering chain if we are sending the mix to a professional mastering engineer. Do not confuse gain reduction with input gain on a limiter, Due to the use of software, some engineers may allow plenty of headroom within the constituent parts of their mix. If the mixing has been done well then there shouldn’t be too much fluctuation in level caused by rogue transients. This will mean that the mix engineer may have to use a lot of input gain before any gain reduction starts to show on the limiter. This is absolutely fine, and likewise only using a small amount of input gain on the limiter would also be fine if that is it all that is required to see a small amount of gain reduction, The important thing to be monitoring here is the consistency and amount of gain reduction, not necessarily the input gain. 113 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE GAIN STAGING SUMMARY & KEY POINTS + Gain staging is the process of ensuring the levels are set correctly at all stages of the signal flow within our mix + Levels should not exceed 0 dBFS within our DAW In analogue circuitry, pushing input signals above OdB can add nice colour and compression to a sound As tracks are mixed, they will cumulatively sum together to use up headroom + Headroom is defined by the dynamic range + Bit-depth is directly related to dynamic range + Mastering engineers expect between -6 and -3dB of headroom to work with at the mastering stage + We can use compressors to stop signals clipping at the recording stage + Recording into a mixing desk should be done at the optimum signal to noise ratio, usually between 0 to -6 dBu + Recording into DAW's should be done at an RMS value of approximately -12 to -16 dBFS (This equates to +4dBu or OVU, however this should not be taken for gospel because the dynamic range and RMS of a vocal is likely to be very different compared to that of an overdriven bass guitar) + Use utility plugins to alter gain instead of using automation on channel faders + At various stages in the mix process we may wish to set our faders to unity gain + Signals should not only be below OdBFS on a track by track basis, but also on the inputs and outputs of each device in a chain as well + When a track is mastered, its normal for it to have between - 0.01 to -0.5dB of headroom for printing to CD or .mp3 114 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE ABLETON’S MIXER ANATOMY ROUTING AND SIGNAL FLOW Ableton Lives mixer, along with any other DAW’s mixer has been designed to emulate conventional hardware mixing consoles used in professional recording studios. Although hardware is still widely used, it has come to the point where software audio workstations are actually capable of a whole lot more than most hardware mixing desks. We are no longer confined to the amount of channels on our desk, or the amount of money we have to spend on hardware, With software such as Ableton, we are now able to have as many tracks as our CPU will allow, The routing capabilities throughout these tracks are virtually limitless. With all these routing options and mix functions at our disposal, it can very quickly get messy and frustrating for the new music producer. So in this section we are going to explain the mixer, its functions, and its routing one by one. Which should allow us to easily navigate our way around Ableton’s mixer. After we have some more experience with mixing we will notice that the fundamentals are the same across all platforms, from Logic & Ableton, right the way through to a proper mixing desk. Once we understand the fundamentals, it simply becomes a case of getting familiar with the different ways of doing things in each respective program. WHAT IS SIGNAL FLOW Signal flow is how the sounds are routed through our Mixing desk or DAW. We can re-route different channels in, and out of one another, as well as sending them to groups, send/return effects and mix busses and the master output. On a conventional desk, most of the routing is done through a patch bay, which is designed to stop us having to go into the back of the mixing desk to constantly plug in equipment. Instead we already have all of the hardware wired into the patch bay, and we can simply grab some patch cables, and send signals to and from the console. 115 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE DAW‘s work exactly the same as this; however, there is no need for a patch bay, as there are no physical cables. Instead we just use software plugins that are routed to one another, using Input and output dropdown menus. When we look at the input/output section of Ableton, we can understand the basic routing of most channels. INPUTS This is where we can route any form of audio into Ableton. For example, we may want to monitor: Microphones DI's (Direct inputs from guitars etc.) Synthesizers External sources from our soundcard Fold-back / Cue from a live room If we select our soundcard, we will then get a second dropdown menu. This will allow us to choose between different stereo or mono channels on our soundcard, We can change the input routing of tracks; this is handy for if we would like one track to feed into another one. We also have a sub menu within this routing matrix to enable us to route individual sounds within a track. This is important for certain instruments such as Impulse, which may require you to make extra auxiliary channels to separate the individual sounds. MONITOR MODES Monitor modes let us choose about how we monitor the INPUT signal. IN - The input signal will constantly be monitored AUTO - The input signal will only be monitored if record/arm is enabled OFF - Will turn off any input monitoring for the selected track 116 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE INSERTS Inserts come first in the mixer chain, the audio passes through the insert on to the next part of the mixer. (Which run from left to right along the bar on the bottom of the screen.) We get a graphical representation of the levels of the inputs and outputs of each device, which can come in handy for a quick indicator of our gain staging. We can also use grouped FX chains to perform parallel processing from the insert strip; we will go into this subject in more detail in our compression eBook of this mix series. On a standard mixing console there are usually Insert points on the console or into the patch bay, this allows us to break the signal flow and route it into hardware such as a compressor. The output of the compressor can then go back into the patch bay, so that the signal can continue on to the mixer. Once this signal has gone through any Insert FX, it then moves on to the main mixer functions. SEND KNOBS Here we can take a copy of the signal and route it to a bus. In Ableton these busses are automatically routed to the relevant return channel that is assigned to the send. PAN POT The pan potentiometer allows us to pan the signal anywhere in the stereo field. MUTE BUTTON The mute function allows us to mute the signal or multiple signals SOLO BUTTON The solo function will mute all other tracks so only this particular track can be heard, We can also solo multiple tracks using the CMD function. RECORD BUTTON Record/arm can be used so that we can record audio into a clip slot. This button is important if we are using AUTO as an input- monitoring mode. 117 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE VOLUME FADER The size of the fader can be adjusted by dragging the mixer up and down. Having this at larger sizes is useful for accuracy when making small incremental changes during mixing. We can be even more accurate by holding down the CMD function when adjusting parameters to fine-tune our volume settings. METERING We also get peak (dark green) and RMS (light Green) metering, as well as logarithmic numbering down the sides of the meter. When the meter is expanded, we also get a peak level and a second box, which allows us to type in numerical values for the output fader volume. When a signal peaks, this peak level will stay in the peak box display till we click on the box, which will reset the meter. METERING AND DYNAMIC RANGE TERMINOLOGY Within metering, there are a few key words that we will need to fully understand. Within a DAW we use dBFS or ‘decibels full scale’, Which works backwards from OdBFs. The noise floor is the quietest signal that we can hear within our DAW. This is where we will usually find ground hum and tape hiss. Within a DAW this will be right down at -Inf dBFS. Next is the nominal level, this is the optimal level for recording instruments into your console or DAW. On hardware and mixing consoles this is at +4dBu, which is also equivalent to 0 VU, (Analog circuitry is designed to have the best signal to noise ratio at this optimal level) however, within your DAW this is slightly different. The optimal level for recording into a DAW is between -12 and -16 dBFS although the signal to noise ratio within a DAW is not really an issue, as long as we do not clip (go over OdBFs) then there won't be a problem. The difference between the noise floor and the nominal level is known as the signal to noise ratio. Like we mentioned earlier, this is very prevalent in analog circuitry. 118 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE Finally we have the maximum level. Due to the circuitry in analog equipment, this can often be sent in hot. (Pushed hard) Into the red to give a pleasing saturated effect, as the signal is soft clipped. In the digital realm of DAW’s this is definitely not a good idea. OdBFs is the absolute maximum your signal should ever reach within any part of your signal chain. Even occasional peaks should not exceed this limit, as digital equipment cannot accurately reproduce the waveform above this level, which will result in nasty distortion. The difference between the nominal level and the maximum level is known as headroom. This is what mastering and mix engineers refer to when they say “leave some headroom in the mix for the mastering engineer to do his work.” This basically equates to not hard compressing or limiting a waveform, and leaving them ample space to work with for the mastering stage. The difference between the noise floor and the maximum level is known as the total dynamic range. As the track develops and our quietest signals start to become louder we will be decreasing our dynamic range in order to achieve a overall louder RMS volume. (Average or root mean square volume) PEAK METERING ANALYSIS Peak meters are used to tell us the maximum level of a signal. This doesn’t really give us a very good indicator of how loud a signal is, but it is very useful for knowing if we are overloading our signal at any point in the chain which could cause clipping. RMS METERING ANALYSIS RMS or root-mean-square meters, use a mathematical function to work out the average loudness of a signal. This is a much better representation of the overall signal level, but cannot be relied on to see if we are clipping a signal. The RMS volume will never be more than the 24 30 6 ~ 42 48 54 60 119 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE peak volume. It can only be less, or in extremely rare circumstances it can be equal to the peak volume. (In the case of a completely sustained note with no decay or release envelope.) RMS metering is the preferred type of meter when checking the overall level of a complete mix. This is also the type of metering used for VU meters because it closely replicates how the human ear perceives sound. OUTPUTS We can also route the output of audio to certain locations, such as groups, master outputs, soundcard outputs and auxiliary tracks. With all of these different output routings, we will often get a sub menu allowing US to choose at which point in the chain we would like to send the audio. Common options are whether we would like to send the signal Pre, or post mixer, as well as Pre, or post FX. This is very useful if we have certain effects that we may wish to bypass when sending to another channel. 120 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE ROUTING, BUSSES & GROUPS MIX/SUMMING BUSSES & AUXILIARIES We can also make a sub mix, or auxiliary channel by creating an audio track and routing multiple tracks to its input. This can then act as a group, and gives us control over volume, panning, solo and mute functions. When we use an audio track for this, we should set our monitoring to IN. This will ensure that we always listen to the track regardless of if the track is armed or not. In auto mode, we must ‘record enable’ the track to hear it’s input. BUSSES This may be slightly confusing, but it’s important to understand that a bus is often used in the wrong context, It isn’t actually a destination for audio, it’s actually the transport of how the signal gets there. A good way of thinking of a mix bus is to think of it as a cable, or a flow of signal. This signal can be sent to wherever you want, by selecting a routing option in Ableton, or in hardware by using a patch cable. For example: we could send a backing vocal track down a mix bus to a new auxiliary track. We may also be sending other backing vocals to this same new auxiliary track, which some people may refer to as a mix bus or group. GROUPS A more simple way of creating a mix bus is by grouping tracks, This is easily done by selecting multiple tracks, then selecting ‘group’ from the drop-down menu. These tracks will now be grouped together, and create a main group track, which has the function of folding all of the individual tracks away, This can be useful for making changes in volume to whole groups of sounds such as drums, without ruining the balance between these separate sounds. Also notice that in the output routing of the individual tracks the output has now changed to GROUP, and from the group it is then 121 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE passed on to the master output. This is ideal for keeping your session organized, We can use groups and mix busses to process signals to glue them together as a whole, as well as control all of the tracks parameters at once. This also aids us later on in the latter phase of the mix- down, so that we are dealing with fewer stems. It’s quite common to be dealing with 5 or 6 groups as opposed to 40+ individual tracks towards the final stages of a mix. Here are some common sub-mixes that would be blended together in the final stage of your mix-down: * BASS * DRUM BUS * MAIN VOCALS * BACKING VOCALS * LEAD SYNTHS * PADS & ATMOSPHERICS * FX * LOW-END * TOPLINE Anyone who has remixed a track, or is familiar with STEM files will recognize that this is usually the stage that producers will bounce their parts down for remixers. These main elements or sub-mixes are commonly known as stems. SEND & RETURNS Finally we have Send & Return Tracks, We can use the send knobs on each track to effectively send a duplicated version of the signal down a pre-routed bus to the relevant return track. From the return track we can then apply any FX processing we may wish to add. From here, we can also feed this return into another return track or back into itself to create a feedback loop. Be aware of excessive feedback raising the volume and damaging your ears and speakers, this can be prevented with a limiter. We also have the option to have a pre, or a post-fade send. Usually we will have this set up as a post-fade send, which means that the signal is sent to the return track after the fader. This ensures that the return channels volume stays relative to the track volume, which is perfect when mixing things like reverb, as it ensures we don’t mess up our dry/wet balance when we adjust the volume of our track. 122 ‘THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE If we wish to have more control over the return level, then we can set it to pre-fader, which now means that it will work independently of the track fader. This means that even if the track fader were set to Inf dBFS, we would still get the full volume through the return track. STEREO OUTPUT The stereo output, also known as the master out or 2 bus, is where all of the tracks will be summed and bounced down, to create our final stereo audio file for playback. This channel can be treated exactly the same as any other channel with FX applied to it. Remember that the aim of mixing is to take a number of separate tracks and blend them together to a single stereo file for playback. A large part of this is how we mix and distribute these signals, which is why it is so important to understand the different routing capabilities. Due to the fact that there is no physical cabling within a DAW, it can be hard to get our head around. But if we can grasp the concept of how a patch bay works and why it is needed, then we can also understand exactly how a DAW sends signals to different plugins and routings within the software. Once we grasp this concept we will have complete control in the studio, allowing us to spread our wings and become more creative in the mixing techniques that we use. Individual Tracks ; STEREO OUT 2 3 submix 2, submix 3 8 = A signal flow diagram of individual tracks, sub-mixes & the stereo output 123 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE ROUTING, BUSSES & GROUPS SUMMARY & KEY POINTS + Signal flow is how the sounds are routed through our mixing desk or DAW to our speakers + Signal flow involves the use of groups, busses, sends, returns, inputs and outputs + Monitor modes let us monitor the input of a track in different ways + IN constant monitoring + AUTO - Only when the record/arm is enabled + OFF - no input monitoring + We can use inserts for effects, the signal will then go to the next device in the chain + Send/returns allow us to send a portion of the signal to a return track, which can then be blended back in with the original audio + Pan-pots can be used to adjust the location of a signal between the left and right channels + There are different coloured meters in Ableton that show us the peak and RMS values of a signal + We can use the output section of a track to send its audio to anywhere within a DAW or to an external soundcard + Busses can be thought of as routes, which allow us to tap off the audio at any given point. + Groups are a useful way of keeping sets of tracks together and applying effects and level/panning changes to all of them at once + Devices on return tracks should be set to 100% wet. + We can set send/return track to pre or post-fader 124 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE FINAL SUMMARY In this first eBook in our 'zero to hero’ mix series, we have covered the fundamentals of sound and waves. This ensures that the groundwork is laid down to build on with subsequent techniques and concepts explained in later books. We have also covered the different issues with setting up a studio space. Including an in-depth look at different monitors and how we should set them up correctly whilst keeping any acoustic interferences or issues, such as standing waves to a minimum. We have also looked at how we can listen critically and analyse a track in fine detail. This is useful for when we are looking at reference tracks, or deciding which approach to take when mixing someone else's track. We have also covered psychoacoustics, and how we can use them to our advantage when mixing, as well as how they can be a problem when we are monitoring our tracks. (Such as Fletcher Munson curves.) We have built a mix-preparation checklist that we can work through to ensure that our track is at a stage where it is ready to be mixed down. We have also taken a look at how to implement gain staging throughout a mix, to ensure that we are not running hot signals into any devices, as well as ensuring that there is no clipping above OdBfs on the master. Finally we have looked at all of the functions within the Ableton live mixer, as well as how we can route signals around Live for different tasks. This first book seems like it's a lot of disparate information to take in, however it's important for forming the fundamental knowledge of sound, which we can build on in later books. Understanding these concepts at this stage will vastly improve the quality of our mix- downs. The main points to take away from this book are: Make sure that our composition is finalized before entering the mix- down stage. Ensure to carry out all of our mix preparation correctly, although it may be boring and tempting to cut corners, good preparation and 125 THE ZERO TO HERO GUIDE TO MIXING IN ABLETON LIVE housekeeping will ensure that we don’t have to disrupt our creative flow to do mundane tasks once we are in the more creative stages of mixing. Finally, our mix will only be as good as our ears, monitors and room. We must look after our ears and listen at sensible levels, treat our room as best as we can and set some money aside for a good set of monitors and ensure they are set up correctly. If you follow alll of these points to the best of your ability, then we can guarantee you will be a much better mix-engineer by the end of this series. This will save you a lot of valuable time and effort in the long run. This is book 1 in our ‘Zero To Hero Guide To Mixing In Ableton Live’ mix series. For further eBooks and free content, please check out our website. Website: www.abletonbible.com Email: info@abletonbible.com 126