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10 Tips for Creating Better Mixes (Part 2 of 5)

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10 Tips for Creating Better Mixes (Part 2 of 5)
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Jonathan: Now, we’re going to move into — well, what’s the next step? Tip number three.

Enrique: Tres. Tres, toi? So, we’ve done assessing intention, number one, two, mix organization, and now that you’re ready to go, the next thing to do is you’re going to balance like a music lover, not like an engineer. What could that ever mean?

What I mean is, you want to set the volume relationship between instruments so that it really caters to what the music is trying to do. What do I mean by not like an engineer?

It’s not, “Can I hear it or not?” That’s not the point at all. It is the volume balance between how we’re having a conversation, how loud we are, not really striking the dynamic that we want to convey. We have our song setup, and the first thing that I do is go to a really dense part of the song.

So if you see the multitrack, you see that there’s a lot of instruments that are happening around the chorus, typically. Right? So the thing that I do is I go to the chorus, I highlight that section, and then I’m going to loop that. Right? So…

[mix]

And I’m going to set it so that this loops, because we have done with the boring stuff, and we have organized everything super foundation and important to accessory. Now what I’m going to do is I’m going to mute everything, and what I’m going to do is I’m going to start peeling away and unmuting these tracks quickly so that I can again, make relationships that feel musical.

So the first thing that we have, I’m going to make this just a little bit bigger, I’m going to unmute the kick in, then I’m going to unmute the kick out, and then I’m going to set myself up so that I can solo things as well, and I’m going to do XOR so I can toggle between my soloes.

Also while I do this, I, in the back of my head, am listening to what each one of these specific tracks is sounding like, so I can spot issues that are coming up, so it’s two things. It’s not spending a lot of time and balancing, and spotting issues.

So let’s do — I’m going to undo my groups, and kick in.

[kick]

There it is. So —

Jonathan: The kick in means kick in — mic in the kick.

Enrique: Exactly. The microphone that is inside the kick drum.

[kick]

Mmm. So I can tell already that there’s a lot of room in here, but it’s kind of — this is the one that has the girth, the other one has the attack, so that’s the attack, that’s the girth. What I’m going to do is turn this guy down and just bring it up very quickly until I get that feeling of fat that I know I’m going to need.

[kick, adjusting levels]

Then I’m going to go to the snare, keep it going.

[kick and snare]

I have another snare here, so snare top microphone, snare bottom microphone, this one is a little crispier obviously, so now that I know what they are, I’m going to bring this down, and I’m going to start bringing it up fast again.

And there it is. So I want you guys to observe two things. One, how fast it was. It was instinct. But that instinct is driven by what? What made me stop there, or bring it down? You saw how I overshot it a little bit, then came back and fine tuned it, but it took me two nanoseconds to do.

So the thing is that I’m already asking myself, what is the snare supposed to do against the kick? So it’s boom, clank, boom, clank, boom, clank. It’s the thing that’s giving me this, and it’s the call and response.

So that — they need to be equal loudness. So I can only go fast if I already have a vision of what this thing should either feel like, or should sound like. Does that make sense?

Jonathan: Yup!

Enrique: So obviously, this stuff takes practice, and you guys need to do to do it, but the thing that you all have is you’ve been listening to music forever, so you know that it’s supposed to dance. So you’re going to bring up the snare until you hear that and it goes, [imitates snare]. If you go, [imitates snare] to one side, it’s not quite cutting it.

So I’m going to continue, and I’m going to go — I’m not going to talk so much, I’m just going to do it really quickly. You’re going to see me bring instruments in, bring them up, and then move on.

So snare bottom.

[mix, adjusting levels]

Cool. And this is not about, can I hear it? Can I hear the snare bottom? Rather, I know the snare bottom is the brightness of it and it needs a lot of snap, so boom. It’s snappy, I dig it. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do.

Now overheads. Okay, I’m going to activate my groups now actually, and I’m going to make a quick group on overheads so that I can move them together, and here they are.

[mix]

There we go, and we said that the hi-hat is really important, so there it is. Maybe just a touch louder. There we go. Snare sample.

[snare sample]

Oh. It’s kind of giving us a little bit of distortion in that thing in the middle. Got it.

[mix]

Got it. So now, this is interesting. So I’ve made it feel right, but now because I introduced this thing, now my snare got a little bit too bright. So another thing that you guys have to keep in mind is that it’s not about, like I said a moment ago, it’s not, “Can I hear it?” No, it’s is it feeling right?

The second thing you guys have to know is that every time you add an element, it symbiotically affects other stuff. So when we bring in the bass, we’re going to have to reassess the kick drum, because they live together. So now I added the snare, well now my snare got a little bit too bright. Makes sense, right?

[mix]

And yup. It’s a little bit bright. Bring this down a hair. Boom. There it is. So I’m just going to move on with kind of the meat and potatoes of it, I’m going to go to the bass.

[mix]

So we have a bass DI and amp. Mmm. You would think that the bass amp is typically the rounder one, and in this case…

[bass amp]

They both have a lot of articulation, but the bass amp has a finer point to me. It kind of has that kind of thumpier thing, so I have thumpy, and I have more modern. Which one is going to take the lead?

So let’s bring these both down. We’re going to listen.

[drums]

I want it to be a little bit more modern, actually. I don’t want it to be thumpier, because it’s doing this, “Dong, dong” kind of long, so thumpy, short. It doesn’t work. So we know that is going to be our DI.

[mix]

Cool, and then…

And there. What I can do is I can activate the group, and I can — now that I have a good blend between them, I can put them where they’re supposed to be, which is what we did, and then we’re just going to put — to expedite, let’s put in these big chorus guitars that are two groups, this one right here, and then these ones right here, and then let’s put in the vocals, and I think that’ll get the point across.

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So here we go.

[mix]

Hmm. Got it. Okay, so if we go in and listen, it seems like these two, these are a pair, and these are a pair as well. If we listen…

[mix]

So this is bright. This is dark. That’s bright, and this is dark. Excellent. So now that we know that…

[mix]

I’m envisioning again what are these supposed to do? They’re the bright guitars, they’re, [imitates guitars], they’re kind of funky, gritty guitars, so I can’t lead with the fat ones. Also, anticipating that there are more guitars here, so what I’m going to do is mute these two.

[mix]

Cool, they’re a little bit quiet, which is understandable, and if I do this, they get a little too chunky. So I’m going to bring these two down just a little. Still a little more. Oops. Pardon me.

This guy here, there we go. So now that I have that, and my balance between them is right, I bring them down and I sneak them in.

[mix]

You see, I’m not even looking at it. I need to feel what it does. Then the same for these.

[electric guitars]

Got it. So this is a pair. I’m going to bring things up a hair.

There. Obviously, mixing is something that is very delicate, and you need to be there for awhile, and to do this whole track would take a long time, but I hope this illustrates the point.

Jonathan: So let’s just spend a quick moment here also thinking about the vocal, because I think placing the lead vocal in particular, which is — I’ve heard is an important element? I don’t know, I’ve heard this. You know.

Enrique: All the kids are doing it!

Jonathan: That’s right! So is there anything different, or do you use the same basic concept? The same basic approach?

Enrique: Excellent. So I use the same approach, actually. So the thing is that if you guys think of, “What’s the most important thing?” It’s something that if my mom listens to the song, she’s going to focus on, it’s going to be the vocals.

Jonathan: Not the hi-hat.

Enrique: Not the hi-hat. But the hi-hat is uber important, because without that, we don’t have that little jittery dance thing, right?

Jonathan: Right.

Enrique: So here’s the thing, the vocal needs to have a relationship with the hi-hat where the hi-hat almost threatens the vocal, because in that rub is that energy that’s created.

What does this mean? So let me just try to make another example. Right now, you and I are talking, and there’s nothing that is challenging about our communication, but if we were at a bar, I would really have to focus on you, and I would really have to pay attention to everything that you’re saying, and I couldn’t let go of that.

Why? Because you’re threatened by this other stuff. So what happens is if we have the vocals too loud in comparison to the hi-hat and the guitars, sure, we can hear them, but the point is not can we hear them, it’s does it feel good? And that feel, that energy comes from that rub, that threatening thing. Does that make sense?

Jonathan: Yeah, that’s an interesting way to think about it. As you’ve been talking about balance and the idea about the most important things, there’s a phrase that sometimes comes to my mind, which is a democratic mix, where everybody gets the same voice, which makes — maybe some sense, if we could realize it in our culture, but in music? Not a good thing. Not a good thing.

But in this case, you’re talking about, you know, some sort of competition. Maybe healthy competition for your attention, but getting the focus on the things that are important. You’ve got to focus it right, right? So…

Enrique: Yeah, totally. So the thing about — I mean, we could talk for hours, I’m sure, and —

Jonathan: We’ll do that afterwards.

Enrique: Exactly. But the democratic thing is kind of interesting, and it’ll come up later.

Jonathan: Okay, great.

Enrique: But let’s do the vocals. So here, we have the chorus, and we have these three, let’s pretend that they’re balanced, awesome. So I’m just going to bring the balance of these three vocals down, and now that this is established, I’m going to turn them up a little bit.

[mix]

So let’s make an example. That is obviously too loud. I can hear them too loud. So I need to understand them, because the lyrics are important. If I bring them here…

[mix]

I can hear the, “Woah, woah,” but I can’t hear the rest. So it’s obviously somewhere in the middle. If I bring this up… One thing that I do is I bring the volume down to be super quiet. You can totally understand the vocals.

But if I do this though and I think of the guitars and hi-hat… the vocals are still leading the pack a little bit, so what I’m going to do is there. The, “Woah, woah,” I’m writing that they’re too loud, but the rest, they feel a little bit low. A little bit low, but what the thing that that’s going to do is that’s going to make you go like this.

What is this dude saying? And that is an energy that I want in my mix.

Jonathan: Cool.

Enrique: Make sense?

Jonathan: Interesting lens.

Enrique: So if we go and take this third turkey out of the oven, voila. This is the session that has all of my volume balancing done. Let’s listen from the beginning through the first chorus.

So the thing that I want you guys to pay attention to is the following. We identified what the emotional intention was, and then there’s these little details that happen. As they go, see where they are in balance, and keep in mind what is being threatened, what is loud and clear. Here we go.

[mix]

Vocal is a little loud.

So make a note, vocal is a little bit too loud. And it’s fine that I revise. Let’s see what happens here.

This is awesome to me. The vocals are a little bit behind the guitars. They’re considerably behind the hi-hat. So if you think like kind of an engineer and just — the hi-hat is way too loud, but without it, it wouldn’t groove. I don’t want to belabor the point, but does that make sense?

Jonathan: Yup.

Enrique: Awesome. So that would be tip numero tres.

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