Mixing - part one.

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Some techniques for getting a good final mix. Some being widely used, and some, not so much...but they work, and that's what counts.

I'd like to share with you some of the methods I use to go about mixing. Some are tried and true, others have my own special disregard for tradition. Before we begin, I'd like to stress that mixing is about making music. Don't get locked into EQing or compressing just for the sake of themselves. Be willing to try new things. Above all, use your ears. I feel very strongly that you should wait a day or two between tracking and mixing. Give your ears a rest, some time to recover. Besides the volume end of things, most of us have a tendency to mix the last thing we tracked a little louder than it should be. It's best to start fresh, so your decision making is at it's peak. OK, let's get started.

I'm writing this with the point of view that we recorded acoustic drums. Most of the tips work well for drum machines too, and some will be unnecessary. First, pull all of your faders down and set your output to mono. I like panning last for two reasons. First, It allows you to check for phase shifts at every step of the way. Secondly, if you can get a good mix in mono, your stereo mix will sound great.

I start by bringing up the kick drum to about 0 dB on the meter, but not over. Scoop out some low mids around 300-500 hz. If the kick sounds "flabby", rolloff the frequencies below 40 hz. You may want to boost around 80 hz. for more thump. Next, bring up your overheads one at a time until they are about as loud as the kick by ear. As you bring each one up, listen to hear if your bass starts disappearing, or if something sounds "honky." If this is the case, something is out of phase. Switch the phase on the offender, and we move on. If you have room mics, bring these up next, and mute the kick. We're listening for overall balance, and that the drums sound like a cohesive unit. Un-mute the kick, and check for phase at each step of the way. Now bring up the snare just so you can hear a slight increase in volume from the sound from the overheads and room mics. The snare can be rolled off between 100-200 hz. Now bring up any close miked drums or cymbals, like the snare, just so you can notice the volume increase.If the toms sound cloudy, scoop out a little in the same range as the kick. This will also cure the "cardboard" sound. Sit back and listen a bit. Does anything sound too loud? Do you have trouble hearing anything? Adjust what you can only using volume. Next we add the bass.

Mute every thing except the kick. Bring the bass up until it's as loud as the kick, by ear. You may also try a narrow cut on the bass around 80hz. If the bass sounds anemic, maybe a small boost around 150 hz is in order. You are trying to get the bass and kick drum to work together here. Adjust your volumes if you had to use EQ, and un-mute the rest of the drums. Sound good? Good. The beater smack is somewhere around 2k-5k and the sound of the bass strings hitting the frets is in the same range. Find a balance so that both sound as good as possible. You can also tighten up the sound of the kit by rolling off the toms at around 100 hz. Rolling off the toms should make it easier to hear the kick and bass. The beef of the snare is around 240 hz, and for toms it lies between the kick and snare. Worry less about how the individual drums sound, and more about how they sound as a unit. Does the kick and bass supply enough bottom for the whole low end, or does the snare really need to be a little fatter? And on the snare topic, remember that we will be adding reverb to fatten it a bit, so if you can leave it alone, do so. Your whole mix will sound tighter if you can leave the bulk of the low end to the kick and bass. Of course, if something sounds thin to the point of being distracting, by all means beef it up a bit. I'll leave off here for now, and next time, we'll add the rest of the band.

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User-submitted comments

Feb 26, 2009 05:09 am
great article
I had no idea about all this stuff, with the help of this article and some new books things are becoming clearer, this is just the sort of material people new to sound production like me need. thanks....Paul

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