Mixing Fundamentals: Setting Levels + Mixing Contest Announcement

Hey, guys. What’s up?

Welcome to a new video here. This is going to be a little bit of a different kind of video. More of a screencast kind of log type thing. I was hanging out with some friends kind of talking about some stuff and it got me thinking, thought I’d make a video on it.

A lot of people send me tracks, and they want to get my opinion on stuff, and they want some tips on how they can get better. There’s always two main things that stick out when it’s a new guy kind of learning to get into this stuff, or even someone that’s done it for a couple of years.

Number one is over-compression. They just hit it too hard and they squash the fuck out of everything.

Number two would be just balance and settings levels, and that’s what this video is sort of about. I think that’s a skill, and I think it’s something you can practice, and I think it’s something you can get good at.

If you talk to any professional, legit musician, especially orchestral guys and jazz guys, a lot of them talk about — you ask them what they practice, and a lot of them will tell you it’s just fundamentals. You have to get good at the easy shit before you can ever do the really cool, flashy stuff.

So if you can’t move a fader and just push a sound up to the right volume it should be at… You know, how do you ever expect to be able to send that to an eighth note delay and have it bounce around and automate stuff on that, and have all of that be in balance with one another if you can’t just set a fader and make it sound good in relation to everything else?

So I have a mix here. It’s a pop/country thing. I just got this song today, and thought this would be a good example for this. Everything was tracked really well, it’s a great arrangement, it sounds good, it sounds like this.

[mix]

Alright. And so everything — I have it imported. It’s color coded, it’s routed. There are no plug-ins on this thing, except for I’ve got my effects going and I’ve got my groups down here with my buss compressors and VCC and whatnot.

There’s not a lot of compression going on there, but I spend a lot of time at this stage just balancing stuff, because I feel like the better I get — the closer I get this to sounding like a record, I’m just going to set myself up for success later.

So if I can get the kick drums, and the snares, and all of this stuff to just kind of feel right here, when I start EQing and compressing and doing the effects, all of that is going to go easier for me, and I feel like there’s an art to setting levels. You know, I feel like if you’re grabbing your fader and you’re pulling it down — like if you start with everything at zero, it’s really hard to balance stuff, but if you start with all of your faders pulled down, and everything at minus infinity, or whatever Pro Tools calls it, and then you slide things up to where they feel right, and then close your eyes and do that, you can set the levels a lot easier.

So let’s do like — let’s grab the bass guitar stuff in this tune. There’s a regular bass and a synth bass. They sound like this.

[bass and synth bass]

Right? So I’m going to pull the faders all the way down.

[mix]

And then I’m going to push them up until they feel right, and 9 out of 10 times, I can do it in just one move. There’s no real second guessing.

[mix]

You know? As opposed to — let me put these things back at zero. Something like that.

[mix]

To me, that’s always uneasy. You never really know where it should be. Even in the context of setting the blend between the two, like if I solo them…

[bass and synth bass]

Like, I can set the blend, pull those faders down at the same time, and then push them up to where they feel right.

[mix]

[bass and synth bass]

It goes a lot faster and it’s all a feeling thing. Like, I’m not watching the numbers on the screen. My studio, I have a Pro Control, which is an older Digi board with sixteen faders, which for me is a lot of fun to use. Which makes it easy.

I don’t know, there’s something about using a mouse that’s just a bitch. I’m sorry I’m cursing, but this is really informal. I kind of did this at the last minute. I’m probably not going to edit this video. But hopefully you guys get something from it.

So that’s the bass. You know, and you can do the same thing — I think there’s some stereo guitars over here.

[mix, then guitars, then mix]

Okay, so we’ll pull those down and blend those in.

[mix]

You know, I’m going to bring them — I’ll put them close to zero. Where are those tracks at so you can see them…

They’re at minus four something. I don’t know. Here we go.

[mix]

Um… So let’s pull it up to volume.

[mix]

You know, and these are things you can practice. Do this. Grab some stems, import them, and just do a rough mix with panning and faders, and make it sound as good as you can.

Obviously, this isn’t perfect, obviously we need EQ and we need to control some dynamics and all of that stuff, blah blah blah, we already know, but these are the things that are really going to make your mixes sound better than the dude down the street.

Like, if you really want to do this for a living, these are the things I really think you’ve got to be good at. These are the things that are going to set you apart. You have all of these companies throwing these new plug-ins at you every six months now, and that’s cool and great and all, but they aren’t going to make your shit sound good.

Things like this are what’s going to do it. Like, you’ve got to be able to listen, push things up — I mean, at the very basics of mixing, this is really what you’re doing. You’re just balancing things dynamically and with volume relationships and panning.

Like, you know. Screw EQ, screw reverb, all of that stuff. Just focus on this, and I feel like you’ll get a lot of really good results.

We’ll do one more of these. I’ve got an acoustic blend thing here.

[acoustic]

So I’ve got a twelve string, stereo strummy, eighth note thing, and then I’ve got these syncopated hard right and hard left acoustic tracks.

[acoustic]

So even setting the blend there, like pull the twelve string down and push it up.

[acoustic]

[mix]

You know, and some EQ and stuff will help that be heard a lot in the mix later on, but just setting the blend between those is so much easier that way.

[acoustic]

You know, rather than starting from up there and coming down to it…

[acoustic]

You know, and you can do this all night long, but I won’t keep you forever but, I don’t know, this is a pretty out there kind of video. Practice this stuff. Do it like, thirty minutes a day, every day before you go to bed, and I swear your mixes will start sounding way better.

Then do this and pull something in to reference against, and reference how loud the kick drum is to the snare versus the bass guitar and the vocal and all of that stuff, because a lot of your problems with low end and all of the stuff is just gain staging and just setting levels. It’s so, so important. Especially if you’re mixing in the box.

If you can gain stage right — I mean, nothing is clipping in this session.

[mix]

You know.

[mix]

You know. I mean, I’ve got room on my mix buss, I’ve got makeup gain on the compressor…

[mix]

I could drop a limiter behind it or something, which is what I usually do to boost the volume later.

Again, that’s how I work though, but none of the tracks are distorted out, clipping, everything is kind of touching yellow. Get this set and then start mixing, and I swear, everything is going to work better for you.

Again, I hope you got something from this. I really don’t feel like editing this, so I’m just kind of going to throw it up on the channel.

Another thing, new mixing contest going on. iZotope was cool enough to sponsor it, and they’re going to give the winner a copy of Ozone 5, which I think is really cool, because it’s a really great plug-in, I think. It’s got a lot of uses.

So go check that out. I’ll put a link in the description. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, all of that social media junk, and I will see you guys in the next video. Later.

Mixnotes

Mixnotes

Mixnotes is a YouTube channel with tutorials on mixing, recording, business, plugins and more. We've partnered with them to feature some of their videos on The Pro Audio Files.
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