Achieving Cleaner Sounding Mixes,
Getting clean sounding mixes comes down to actually a lot of factors. The mix engineer’s experience is probably the biggest one, but a couple of those other factors that impact one’s mix are:
- Sound Selection
- Knowledge in Mixing / Tricks of the Trade
- Arrangement of the Track
- Experience on Creating Separation from Sound to Sound
- Having a good audio recording is pretty important. (It’s hard to make a bad recording sound great).
I’ll tell you right now, each mix is different. As soon as you think you understand mixing, this is where you get stuck and realize, you don’t know what you’re doing. But this is great, cause you’ve already learnt a lot, and now you’re going to build real knowledge off of your trial and erroring.
Overtime, you will start to realize that some sounds are very hard to work with; especially certain synths. Through experience, you will know how to deal with them, compress and EQ accordingly, and become fast and faster at mixing!
However, even after you feel you’ve mixed a great mix, and no matter what you’re doing, you can’t get instruments to stand out, this is where sub-buss mixing comes in!
Using Sub-Bus Mixing,
When coming back to a finished mix, many times I feel that I could of made different adjustments. For example, the vocals aren’t as prominent as they could be, the mix isn’t as balanced as I’d like, or it’s hard to hear certain instruments/sounds.
This is where sub-bus mixing comes in. It allows you to sort your instruments into categories, then EQ those categories accordingly. This really helps for clear mixes, however, there are somethings to watch out for.
With Sub-Bus mixing, you want to be very gentle in your EQ changes, because this is just to help instruments to stand out, such as vocals in a track. I recommend mixing the your individual tracks first (do you EQ adjustments, cut where necessary to make things stand out), then group your instruments into categories. This allows for doing cool tricks like the sub-bus EQing, plus, makes it easier when mixing because you now only have one slider to manage, rather than the individuals being routed to the sub-bus.
Your sub-bus categories could look something like this:
The groups above are just an idea. You song will be different, but use it to help you out.
Now, if you’re acoustic sounds aren’t standing out (pianos/guitars), you can head over to the synths sub’s EQ, dip out 1-2dB in the mids, and to create extra clarity for the acoustics. The trick is to cut and boost the same frequency.
Cut and boost the same frequency? Is that possible? — If you cut the synths sub’s EQ at 600Hz 1-2dB, go to the acoustics sub, and boost 1-2dB at 600Hz; the same frequency you cut on the synth sub’s EQ. Now, if you’re synth isn’t standing out, you can cut the acoustics EQ at let’s say 5kHz 1-2dB. And again, boost that same frequency (5kHz) on the synth sub’s EQ.
Now, keep in mind, you don’t always have to boost on a cut. If you cut some EQ on one sub group, and it’s standing out, don’t feel like you have to go and boost up the EQ now. This is where an experienced mixer makes the proper decisions, rather than following a robotic-like mix style.
Extra Clarity — Use a Gate to Tame the Unnecessary,
Some sounds are just FULL of frequencies. They do nothing but clog up the track, even if they sound good. These full frequency sounds make it hard to get a clear, bright, and loud mix.
As mentioned in the list above with the factors to get a cleaner mix, knowing the tricks of the trade is essential for understanding what tools do, and using them to your advantage. Let’s talk about how a gate can be useful here.
If you ever use PADs in your music, you know how good they sound, but you may not be aware of how much space PADs take up in your mix. There are a few options you can use here.
Now, if you’ve already looked at the effects, and find out that it’s not the effects that are taking up all the space in the mix, using a gate will help cut back on the unwanted excess of the sound. So gently (or aggressively) using a gate can help to tame the unwanted, and clear up your mix quickly!
For example, when the sound is playing, you want to hear it. And some sounds do sound good even after they’re done playing, because of their effects, or release. But I find it’s usually after the sound is done playing, or while changing notes, the sound continues on, filling up unnecessary space!
I’d set the gate to where it plays great when the notes are playing, but when the notes are released, the gate will kick in, and literally close off those sounds when they get to be too quiet. And therefore, creating tons of extra space in the mix.
While adjusting the gates settings, don’t be afraid to set them extreme. The gate’s settings may sound too extreme when soloed, but once the verse/chorus comes in, it may sound perfect!
If you end up using the track in verses, where it’s been heavily gated, and is extremely noticeable, you can always use automation, or just clone the track, and adjust it differently in the chorus from the mix etc.
Step by Step Tips to get Cleaner Mixes,
Find the Problem – Why Isn’t Your Sound Standing Out?
This is the first step I take in mixing. I will first adjust my volumes, try to get a nice balanced mix, then listen for any sounds not standing out, or if I think I am able to improve what I’m hearing from the mix.
This is not an easy step to do, especially for the new mixer, because we want to force ourselves to do this more and more, rather than just listen. First trying to find the problem before making any tweaks to EQ and/or other effects, will give you a much more organized, and hopefully more accurate mix!
How can you fix something without knowing what is causing the problem? You can try, and if you figure it out right away, awesome! But if you don’t, you could be going in circles for awhile.
So check out these step by step tips of achieving cleaner mixes:
- Adjust your volumes, then listen to your track. Does something not stand out, or is there an area where you feel you can improve on?
- Assess the situation; what’s causing the problem? (Soloing out instruments within your song will show you what is clogging up your track, or has an annoying pitch to it).
- Now, take action; what tools will fix your problem? (This is the hard part with mixing; knowing and understanding the tools (and the jobs they do), to help you fix your problem!).
- If INDIVIDUALLY EQing is not working for you, take advantage of the sub-group mixing like we have talked about in this tutorial. (Try doing EXTREME cuts, then bring it back once you’ve found the problem — gentle cuts are usually all that are needed!).
Cleaner Mixes — Final Thoughts,
Creating clean mixes is not easy. It takes a lot of patience, practice, and trial and error. You can read on what the tools do, and techniques of the trade, but the only way for you to get the clean and clear mix you’re wanting is by knowing the factors of creating a clean mix!
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