Welcome to the third edition of Producer’s Corner & this one is going to be all about Mixing & Mastering. Now, in traditional terms, a producer’s work is just to make the music and mixing and mastering work is done by their own respective engineers who pioneer in that field. But, in current scene almost everyone is working like a machine with different levels of abilities. Some can do more while some can do a bit less. While, almost everyone I know is mixing and mastering their tracks on their own, but if you have the budget, definitely get your tracks mixed and mastered by an engineer. This will not only get another set of ears working on your track but can also help to fix problems that you might not have noticed.
If you don’t have the budget, you can follow what I do once I’m done making a track. I like to take exactly two and a half days off and on the remaining half of the third day, I’ll hear the track at ridiculously low volume to see if anything is wrong or if anything is taking too much volume/space than it should. Then on the fourth day, I’ll start mixing slowly and intelligently while also taking some breaks every 1.5 - 2 hour to freshen up my ears. I’ll repeat this until I have the finished product. Then it's all about mastering (which shouldn’t take a lot of time.)
[Also, I sometimes like to mix as I go while sometimes I like to mix in the end]
Before we move forward, it's important to get one thing straight, i.e what exactly is mixing & mastering?
Well, in simple terms, mixing refers to the art of getting everything sounding right in your mix, while mastering aims at organically raising the level of your track to match the commercial loudness. Personally I think, you should see mixing as baking the cake, while mastering should act as a cherry on the top. Get everything sounding right when you’re mixing the track (it doesn’t matter if you mix as you go or mix after you’re done making the track) and don’t think you’ll fix something when you’ll master it Don’t think of mastering as baking yet another cake. Keep things simple and while the rules doesn’t matter, having some guidelines, sure helps. I’ll go over 3 mixing and 3 mastering tips that helped me a lot.
Before you do anything make sure that you get the volume and balance right! This will just make things a lot easier!
1. Make Sure Each Element Have Their Space.
If you’re ears are not trained enough, it’ll take you some time to realize that sometimes you’re not giving the desired space to the elements. This is one of the most important step to get your track to sound next level. The best you can do is to A/B the elements to see if you’ve unnecessarily added those? Or would the overall track sound clear if you take them out? Don’t just layer stuff blindly, analyze what is needed in what band and see if there already is something in the track that is compensating for that gap! Being critical of what you add is actually a good thing as you’ll only choose the elements that are required, which in turn would clear up the space, and everything will have its space & time to shine!
2. Be Critical Of Any Clashing & Resonant Frequencies
When you’re adding stuff into you’re track, it is most likely that some frequencies will keep on building up in a particular band if you’re not treating them on the spot. You must be aware of the fact that you should be cutting at least 100-200 Hz from everything in order to only leave Kick and your Sub for the low end. If you’re not doing this, is the reason you have a lot of clashing frequencies in your mix. Also taking out some mids and some highs from elements that don’t need those, will help elements like vocals, snare, high end content like super saws, cymbals etc to breathe more, without anything else clashing with them.
In addition, when you hear something that you feel is really painful to the ears or sends shiver to your spine, is likely due to resonant frequencies. Take an EQ with a sharp Q and just take those out. Imagine if that is painful to hear on your monitors, what will happen to the people in concert if your track ends up playing at a festival?
If you can figure out a way to place elements properly on their respective bands, you automatically will have a clean sounding mix!
3. Mono Is The Key
How can you assess if you’re track will sound good in the club?? The answer is by testing it in Mono. This is yet another step where you have to be critical of your stereo imaging and what you’re using to give your sounds the width! Some plugins will make your stuff sound super wide and good in stereo putting a big fat smile on your face, but when the mix will collapse to mono, all you’ll have is a weird look due to all the phasing that you’ll hear. What you can do to avoid this is actually a two step process:
- Study what stereo imager works the best. For me, Dimension Expander by Xfer Records works the best, also its free.
- If you’re on Ableton, slap a Utility on you master, pull the width all the way to 0 and assign a hotkey to it. So the next time you’re making a sound or mixing stuff down, keep pressing that hotkey every few minutes to see how the mix is sounding in mono! (I’m sure there will be some way to replicate this on other DAWs as well)
Like I said before, get your mixdown sounding right and the mastering process won’t take long. All you need is a bit of EQ, some compression and some limiting & clipping! So what that being said, let’s get straight to some mastering tips!
1. Do What The Track Needs
I think everyone will be on the same page with me here. Just because you saw something on the internet doesn’t mean that you should use it. Every producer will say that their master chain differs with each track and that is for a reason. If you saw someone adding Camel crusher on their master, that doesn’t mean that your track needs that too. Just hear, know the plugins and you’ll be able to do everything! Also, the more and more you unnecessarily keep on adding to the master, the more the signal will keep on getting manipulated (it can either work out great or horrible.)
2. Clarity & Loudness Should Go Hand In Hand
Not saying that you shouldn’t focus on the loudness, by all means, do what you can to make your track sound as loud as you can. But make sure you’re not compensating clarity for a higher RMS value. If you do end up going this rabbit hole, all the time you spent doing your mix will go to waste. So, you can only get a proper balance between clarity and loud af track only if each element has its space, there is no clashing & resonant frequencies & the mixdown is good. Practice & critical listening is the key!
3. Use The Master Imager Carefully
For this last step, all I want to say is only use multiband stereo imager on the master to bring everything below 100 Hz to mono. If you’ve the mixdown right, you won’t really have to do much here. A little bit of widening in the high mids is fine I guess, but going too ham with the imager can actually introduce some problems. For example, if you end up spreading the high frequencies too much, sometimes due to intersample peaking and conversion of the file to MP3, your highs can totally get messed up and the end product on Soundcloud might end up sounding really bad. Just something to keep in mind!
We hope these tips help you out in some way or the other and can add some value to your tracks!