1. Creative Sidechaining:
A great technique for creating space in your mix is by sidechaining certain elements to each other, especially instruments or sounds that are fighting for space in the mids and upper mids. You can achieve this by sidechaining, for example, the lead melody to the vocal, meaning when your vocal plays this will duck your lead. This reduces the need for meticulous automation of your parts.
2. Bus send processing:
Applying reverbs or delays on a bus send is an efficient way to work through a mix. Your tracks will sound more coherent using the same reverbs – for example using the same style plate reverb across your drums will add a more organic flavor to your mix, giving the impression that the drums were recorded in the same space. However, with a reverb or delay effect set up on a send it means you can also process it independently from the source signal, if you have a big reverb bus set up for effect sounds it may be a good idea to add a sidechain to the reverb bus to duck it on the kick drums and avoid muddiness. You could also add some stereo imaging to your reverb bus, a wide reverb on a lead synth sound will give the impression of a nicely spread sound, however the dry signal can stay central. Modulation effects work great on bus sends too, try using a chorus or phaser on your bus sends to help separate them from the source signal and avoid any potential phase issues.
When attempting to add width to our mix we tend to push out the highs and keep the lows centered. Stereo imaging tools are great for this sort of technique, however when used on transient material they can sometimes really mess with the attack on certain sounds. If this is the case, try using an autopanner, set to 1/16 on a hi hat or shaker loop works a treat, or try it on a slower setting for an arpeggiated sound. Not only does this technique add width to sounds, but it can also add much needed movement to an otherwise stagnant synth part.
4. Volume Shaping
Although sidechaining is a tried and tested mix technique, especially used to duck sounds on the kick, more recently becoming ever more popular is the simple but effective volume shaper. This can sometimes be even quicker to dial in than a sidechain compressor, and you may find you have much more control over the shape and feel of the ducking effect. Xfer Records’ LFO Tool has a series of Sidechain presets that you can tweak from. You can always use this technique for more creative effects, like using a setting other than 1/4 as a way to edit or chop up a drum loop. If you don’t want the effect in your breakdown sections simply automate the on/off for the plug in in your DAW.
5. Stripped Back
Try and fill your mix just using a few core elements. Your melodies will benefit from this approach but so will your mix. Maybe even set yourself a rule of 4-5 sounds and work those sounds until you’re happy. This could be as simple as kick, sub, bass, lead, vocal. If you can get the production and mix sounding strong with just these elements, then everything else – clap/snare, hi hats, percussion, fx, should fit into the frequency area, left untouched by your core elements. It’s also worth mentioning that the low end is the foundation of your mix, getting your kick, sub and/or bass working together early on in the writing process should help you achieve a more solid production and mixdown.
6. Dealing with Frequency Masking
Use opposite EQ on sounds that fight for the same frequencies to separate them in a mix, like cutting lower mids from your kick drum if you have lots of lower mid on a bass sound. Whilst at the same time, if your kick drum is peaking at 90Hz, then cut some of this frequency from your bass and other sounds. This technique is a great way for separating sounds but also useful for making the most important elements cut through in a mix.Thus, if your lead synth has a lot of energy around 1-2k you might want to cut some of these frequency from other sounds playing at the same time to create more space for the lead.
7. Cleaner Vocals
Set up your reverb and/or delay sends on your vocals, after your send effect set up a sidechain compressor and then direct the sidechain to the vocal itself. This means that when the vocal signal kicks in, the reverb/delay will be ducked, whilst when there is a break in the vocal phrases the reverb/delay effect will rise up, filling the gap left by the vocal. Not only a great mix technique, this also creates a nice talk and response effect between the vocal phrases and the effects.
8. Set up some basic mastering
It’s not a bad idea to begin mastering your track from the start of the process. Set up some basic mastering on your master channel, this could include some subtle glue compression, an EQ or exciter adding air in the 10K+ region and a limiter bringing up the level. Mixing and sourcing sounds in this way, you can hear what things will potentially sound like when they’re mastered. It can also help identify potential problem areas in the mix – if you can hear the limiter being pushed too hard in sections of your track then maybe you need to go back and fix some things. You should also hear where sounds are clashing with the kick drum too much.
9. Meticulous Referencing
It is important to constantly be referencing other tracks during the mixdown phase. So whilst it’s fine to jump to other tracks for referencing the vibe and feel of a track, to appropriately reference mixdowns you need to be able to quickly switch from your track to your reference. The Sample Magic A/B is designed specifically to do this for you, all from within your DAW!
It’s important to level match your reference, not just so that your project is peaking at 0db as per your references, but also take note of the RMS (the average level) of your reference, -9db once mastered is probably a good place to be – this should match the overall perceived loudness of your mix/master to other references well. Also reference the intro of tracks, where there is maybe just the kick drum and no sub playing, by doing so you should be able to effectively match your kick drum tail making sure there’s enough weight but not too much decay which could interference with other low frequency elements and swamp the mix. Also look for any points on your reference where maybe the sub/bass is playing without the kick in a breakdown – if you don’t have a great low end on your speakers or bad acoustics this may be a useful point of reference for how loud you want your sub to be.
DeEssers are of course great for reducing sibilant frequencies on a vocal, however they can also be just the ticket for smoothing out harshness on your tops or hi hats. A DeESser will effectively compress specific frequencies as set by the user, so set around 7/8k may help reduce harshness on higher frequency material, you can always add an EQ/exciter post DeEssing and do a subtle boost around 10-12k if you feel you’ve lost too much presence in the sound from the DeEsser.