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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Mixing - Setting Up A Session

Hey guys. This blog is all about setting up a session so that you’re prepared to make an amazing sounding mix. It’s easy to want to jump straight into EQing and compressing sounds, but without a good starting point, a lot of your mix will be spent working against yourself.

This is a track that was given to me by my friend, Jaye, who I’ve worked with briefly before. He’s just started getting into audio production and is completely self taught. It is his own track that he performed and recorded at home.

He is still in the process of mixing this track, but sent me an early mix to give him some feedback on what I think it needed. I asked him to send me stems of all the files so that I could show him, and you guys how I would go about mixing his track.

You’ll see all of this in the video, but I thought I’d give you a brief breakdown here in my blog.

Reference Tracks

I’ve talked about reference tracks a lot as I think they are very important in getting your track to where you want it to sound. You can find a whole blog I wrote on the subject here.

For this track, I trawled through Spotify looking for tracks that I think would be appropriate for referencing this track. I mostly searched Goth and Industrial genre bands and ended up with a track from the classic Industrial heavyweights, Nine Inch Nails, and another track from the band Front Line Assembly.

Both Tracks have similar instrumentation to my track and are in a similar genre and tone. I found songs that were closer in sound to this song, however I didn’t like the mixing as much on them. There’s no use mixing to a track that you don’t actually like the sound of.
I also brought in Jaye’s mix into the session as I wanted to see where he was at with his mix and where I’m at with mine. Partly to make sure my mix is an improvement, and partly to make sure that I don’t go too off track with how he wanted it to sound.

Session Layout

How you layout your session is very important to how you operate. If everything is all over the place, you’re going to spend a lot of time looking for tracks and figuring out what you’re doing rather than actually mixing.

I like to have my Master Fader at the very top, then all my reference tracks, then the Main Mix Bus, then all my Sub Busses, and then the tracks for the session. The session tracks can go in any order, but I like mine to go: Drums, Bass, Guitars, Keys, Samples, Vocals, then finally Effects.

You should always have the tracks named so you can instantly recognise what track you’re working on. These names should be simple and to the point as DAWs usually try to condense the name of a track down and sometimes it’s hard to figure out what “KH41CwU11” is.

Color code your tracks too. Most DAWs give you the function of coloring your tracks. This makes it easy to see where you are in your mix window and will make your moves a little more intuitive. Remember, how you set up your session at the start of mixing will affect your workflow for the rest of the mix.

Gain Staging

This is very important and was something that was particularly relevant to the tracks in this video. The tracks that Jaye gave me for this session were incredibly hot, most of them sitting very close to the 0dB mark. For those of you who are a bit newer to mixing, 0dB on a channel meter is the very highest that a channel can get.

This is important to note, because if you go over 0dB on any channel, mix bus, or master fader, you will introduce digital distortion into the mix. Digital distortion, or digital clipping, is the sound it makes when the sound clips the output of a digital channel and is extremely unpleasant.

Because each of the channels that Jaye gave me were so hot, when combined the channels were clipping quite a lot. You can turn down the output of each channel to stop the busses from clipping but it’s a lot more logical to turn down the trim at the very start of the chain.

This is because you’ll have a lot more headroom later on in your processing, but also because plugins are designed to work at a lower level. If you have your source audio sitting at -1dB and then add an EQ with a boost, you’ll be clipping that EQ’s output.

For this reason, I trim all of my tracks to run at around the -20dB mark. On Pro Tools, that’s about half way up the meter where the meter turns light green. I usually use the Clip Gain function in the Edit Window but you can use a Trim plugin or whatever other way your preferred DAW works.

On these tracks, I found myself having to lower the gain of each channel by about 16dB. That is an enormous drop in volume. Even then, when added up, the mix bus still had a nice healthy signal running to it.

Finally, I then checked all of the levels of the reference tracks. This is important, because you don’t want your references to be a lot louder than your track. You won’t be able to accurately compare them. I pick a sound that is consistent and important in both tracks and bring down the reference track until that sound is at the same level. I usually use the kick drum, but you can use the snare or vocal if you like.

The thing is that mixing loud sounds better, but that doesn’t mean your tracks should be louder when mixing, you just have to adjust your monitoring accordingly. If you’re peaking any channels, you should turn down the trims and turn up your headphone/speaker level.

I hope this has been helpful to you guys at home. If you have any questions or comments on the blog or video, feel free to comment below. Next video I’ll be starting the actual mixing of the track, going over basic balancing of the mix. See you next time!

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