Getting a good mixdown is the key to a well balanced track. After making all the different tracks, instruments, and such you want to spend time in making it all fit together just right for your mixdown. This article is going to go over preparing your mixdown with tips and techniques.
Step one: Preparation and Intention
The first thing to think of when building your track, even before this stage and durning, is what type of music are you making. If you are making hip hop or techno then your kick is HUGE and takes up a large part of the mix. If you are doing a rock song then less so. Downtempo is more about melody, and so forth. Having this in your mind will inform all your choices.
Think what is the most important parts of this song, and your genre.
Next step in preparation is leveling out. Make sure your master is at 0 with no compression or anything on it. Next make sure all your tracks do not peak past 0. Try and mix the elements as balanced as possible. We will clean the mix a little more but it is a good starting point.
Lastly clear house to make room or CPU. Sometimes at this stage I will freeze and or bounce down tracks. It really depends on my CPU. Try and bounce down enough tracks and elements to keep your cpu reasonable. No clicks and such. Second get rid of any clutter. Maybe an eq you have on there that is turned off, or an empty MIDI channel you forgot about. Just clean house to make things easier.
Step Two: Eqing the Elements
First thing to do at this stage is by putting a high pass filter on all your elements. Yes ALL of them. To start make it at least 30hz to start for the bass and kick. Then on your Melodies and drums High pass as much as you can but keeping it clean. For instance my drums start at 150, minus the kick, and my melody at 300hz.
This sets the stage and cleans up a lot of frequencies you don’t need. You might already see more room in your mix.
Next go through and EQ each element to tighten them as much as possible. Below is an example of my eqing of the different elements
As you can see by EQing them in such a way that each channel allows room for the other you will have a tighter mix. There will of course be overlap, and that is ok. You just want to give enough eqing that it doesn’t ruin the sound but gives a little more room.
Go through every element and make the appropriate EQ. I Like to draw it out on a piece of paper first. This is where knowing your genre is important as well. Hip Hop kicks are much deeper lower kicks, in the 80 hertz and lower. Where other genres you might just have the kick at around 100.
Here is a basic Image to help visualize different layers and their frequencies:
This chart is for classical music. You would do well and help you visualize your music more by drawing this out for each instrument you are using in your track. I like to start a bland one with a track and then fill it in as I go for better eqing and understanding.
Here are some important Eqing and trouble spots to keep in mind.
Snare Crossover – Snares can take a lot of space. Look at what frequencies it is hitting and make sure there is room. Snares are easy to be too loud to watch out for this.
Kick, Bass Crossover – You Kick might be at 100 and under and your pad starts it’s frequency at 150, but you should High pass the pad a little before 150 to let ti give space. You can also side chain it, but side chain alone is not enough.
Pad/Synth Crossover – Pads can have the same frequency of other sounds. Make sure each element has it’s core frequencies eq’d and are at different frequencies.
Reverb/Delay – Watch to make sure your Reverbs aren’t to ringy. Sometimes it is best to high or low pass before and after your reverb.
Step Three: Setting the Sound Stage
Now that you got a lot of frequency space something to look at is your placement of the sounds. By panning things right you can actually create more space for things to breath. I really like to visualize my music in a room, like a theater. Then I picture where the drums are, the lead, the extra sounds, and so forth. You should not have a kick in the middle and then a snare all the way across the stage. Try and keep it realistic as possible.
Here is a little image as an example:
After setting your sound stage you should see a lot more room and really nice placement of every sound. For drum placement visit this article for more information.
Now that you got the panning, eq, and volumes pretty much under control you are ready for your mix down. It is best to save this file and take a break. Then the next day or such you can come back. Review it, and then start the final mixdown. The mixdown for me is when you set your final levels to insure a smooth mix. This is the prep work for it, but does not replace sitting down to just dial in the volumes.
By eqing it ahead of time and throughout your process you will make the mixdown and mastering even smoother.
For a deeply related article check out the write up I did on Panning and moving your sounds with ableton live. As well as check out the unique Mixdown Toolset Live Pack I made to make editing and getting a clean final mix quick and exactly how you like. Good luck with the tunes, take breaks, and enjoy the process.