Monthly Archives: October 2015

Mixing State of Mind – How to Realize the Mixing Vision for Your Tracks

Achieving a mix as you have visualized it in your head is not as simple as it sometimes feels. But with a few pointers and a nudge to the right direction, the whole process will become much easier, and more fun. Achieving the perfect mixing state of mind demands practice, but it is possible to grasp with the aid of some tips. Read more below.

Make a decision

Balance. That's what mixes are all about. Photo Credit: evilsciencechick via Compfight cc

Balance. That’s what mixes are all about. Photo Credit: evilsciencechick via Compfight cc

Before you even lay your hands on the mixer, you need to decide a few things. You need to know what kind of spectral balance you want the track to have. Does it need to have a fat low-end, a warm midrange or crispy, bright hi-hats? Usually, it’s smart to concentrate on one of these qualities, as you can’t get them all at once that easily. Think about it, if you mix a big low-end but extra-bright drums, wouldn’t they kind of cancel each other out and not stand out of the mix anymore? The key here is balance.

It’s easier to jump into the mixing mode once there is an “image” of the track, incepted in your head instead of just taking a direction by random. Naturally, a degree of intuitive behavior is needed, but when it comes to mixing, well-planned is half-done.

Down to the source

Make sure the original dry tracks already possess the qualities you need. You really can’t make an overly dull hi-hat bright now, can you? Bad samples and instruments will lead nowhere but an average (or even bad) mix. Great source sounds are the key to a great mix!

Wet or dry? Details?

What do you want your music to look like? Photo Credit: Billy Wilson Photography via Compfight cc

What do you want your music to look like? Photo Credit: Billy Wilson Photography via Compfight cc

When you plan your mix, it’s healthy to decide what kind of soundscape you want to create. Dry or wet? Reverb or little reverb? Delays or zero delays?

Also, forget about fine-tuning the details when in the first stages of a mix. Should you want to create a reverbed sound, just slap a reverb to the track you want, quickly grab a preset that sounds like the style you want, and leave it there for now. It’s no use tweaking reverbs and other plugins, only to lose focus. The fine-tuning can be done later for hours and hours after the initial mix is done.

The quick mix

Here’s how to do a perfectly fine mix, quickly:

The ingredients to a quick mix. Photo Credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight cc

The ingredients to a quick mix. Photo Credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight cc

Start with the most important track, set a healthy fader level, and move on to the second important track. And so on. Create a quick fader mix by mixing the elements in order of importance. Try to get the rough “mix idea” down, just as you would when writing a song. Ideas come out of our heads best when done quickly. That’s just how our intuitive brain works.

After that, you’ll have all the time in the world to tweak your mix. The bottom line here is: think and make your thoughts reality (and be quick about it). That’s it.

-JP

What’s your method of approaching a mix? Discuss below.

Reference Tracks for Mixing – How to Choose the Best Reference Tracks

Choosing great reference tracks is vital in order to achieve a great mix. Let’s be honest here: you’re not a master mixer and you won’t magically transform your track’s sound from average to amazing without a little help. Hell, even the pros use reference tracks for mixing, so why shouldn’t you? Read on to find out about how to choose the best reference tracks to aid you in mixing your music to sound the best it possibly can.

Be smart when choosing great reference tracks

Look to the past to find great-sounding music. Photo Credit: thibault.billet via Compfight cc

Look to the past to find great-sounding music. Photo Credit: thibault.billet via Compfight cc

Don’t be cocky and choose the most banging EDM track only because you like it so much – as it probably doesn’t help you in mixing as much as it should. Be smart instead. How to be smart, you ask? Let me tell you.

You go straight to the top, and listen to the work of real professional mixers. That’s right. Mixers aren’t hired because record labels got too much money to throw away (as they probably don’t). Mixers are hired for the job because they can transform a great-sounding track to an exceptionally great-sounding track.

That’s why you need to get your hands on some tracks mixed by pro mixers to your reference arsenal. Do names like Tony Maserati, Mark “Spike” Stent and Dave Pensado ring a bell? If not, hurry and find out about their mixing credits.

Aside from keeping an eye on you favorite mixers, stay on the hunt for great-sounding pop, rock and electronic music. You should also go dig up some of your favorite albums from the past you think sound really great. I promise you, using pro-mixed material as your reference tracks will make your music sound better.

The Rules of Referencing

Setting sonic "limits" to your mixing is a smart move. Photo Credit: Paolo.Sarteschi via Compfight cc

Setting sonic “limits” to your mixing is a smart move. Photo Credit: Paolo.Sarteschi via Compfight cc

Now, of course you should have some tracks done by your fellow producers as references too, to get you in the ballpark of how electronic music is sounding nowadays, but stay away from the pitfalls of badly-mastered amateur music that places like Soundcloud are full of. They’re no good for you.

To nail the whole referencing business, you have to understand why you use reference tracks in the first place.

As the first rule, seek out things that you like in a piece of music, and gather those tracks into your reference folder. For example, you might find a piece of music that has the greatest sounding high-hats, and you’d always want to use that as a reference when mixing and balancing high-hats in your track.

As the second rule, categorize tracks by their frequency content and balance. For example, one track might have a colorful and crisp midrange, and one might have the best low end you’ve ever heard. Those are keepers too.

The third and final rule is, seek for tracks that set the limits for your mixing. What I mean by this is, one track might have the brightest high end but it’s just below the line of causing ear-fatigue, and the other track might have the fullest-sounding midrange, still barely managing to pull off clarity without getting dull. These “limiting” tracks will set the borders for your mixing, which you should always stay inside of, to ensure a quality outcome.

As a smart mixer, you’d naturally want to level-match any referencing source to the track you are currently mixing, so you’ll always be making the right decisions as you progress.

That’s it – Reference Away

Does your reference track collection look like this? Photo Credit: Broken Haiku via Compfight cc

Does your reference track collection look like this? Photo Credit: Broken Haiku via Compfight cc

A smart choice is to keep at least 3 to 5 reference tracks in your project. You can always solo them for real-time referencing, constantly keeping you on the right track.

Listen to the reference tracks closely – what makes them so great? Aim to make proper corrections and decisions while you mix – and you’ll get one step closer to the best mix you’ve ever done.

-JP

How do you find reference tracks for yourself, and do you approach them from an emotional or technical perspective – or both? Leave your comments below.

Automating Delay Plugins – 3 Methods to Add Depth to Your Mixes by Using Delay Automation

Static mixes might be good-sounding, but they are often not very interesting. For this reason, it’s necessary to take the extra mile while mixing, and automating your  plugins to add depth and interest to your mixes. Here’s three different methods to add spice to your tracks by automating delay plugins.

In these examples, I’ll be using EchoBoy by Soundtoys, but the effects are fairly universal using any well-equipped analog-style echo plugin.

Automating the delay time in milliseconds (ms)

In the first example, I’ll be automating a delay’s echo time to vary the frequency of the echoes throughout the duration of the delay. Make sure to crank the feedback of the delay to create a long loop of delays. The important function in this method is the time knob.

1

The delay time automation graph for the first effect. The recorded effect in audio below.

2

The “Echo Time” -knob in EchoBoy is the important part to achieving this effect.

Listen to the audio example below to hear the tape-style speeding up and slowing down -effect.

 

Automating the groove of the delay

Second, another interesting method to squeeze some advanced effects out of a delay is to automate its groove or swing function. If your delay has a function like this, take advantage of it to change the groove in real time.

3-swing

The “Groove” -function in EchoBoy is how the effect is achieved.

Listen to the audio example of achieving the “swinging” effect. You’ll hear the audio start gradually swing.

 

Automating the delay feedback

Lastly, one of my favorite uses for a delay – automating the feedback. The feedback of the delay can be used to create interesting, spacious soundscapes, tails and effects to any sound. Notice that I enabled the “DM-2” style in EchoBoy to give the delay a gritty, analog feel.

5-1st

The automation graph for the delay feedback.

5-feed

Automate the “Feedback” -knob in your delay to create interesting sounds. Use an analog-modeled delay style so the feedback doesn’t get out of hand and start self-oscillating like crazy.

Listen to the audio example below to hear the automated feedback -effect. Nice, eh?

 

Delay your music!

As you can see, lots can be achieved with a simple delay. It’s only a matter of imagination, really. So go ahead and take your favorite delay, and squeeze sounds out of it you’ve never heard before.

-JP

What’s your favorite delay plugin? Do you use a stock delay or a commercial delay? Leave your comments below.

How to Get Rid of Distractions – Make Music More Efficiently

Music producers have the ability to manufacture a track after another – in an ideal world. The reality is, unfortunately, that distractions are everywhere we turn our heads and there is no escaping them. How to get rid of distractions is no easy task in this technologically advanced world, forcing people to multitask on every single issue in their life. Read on for some simple, mind-cleansing tricks.

Distractions, what are they?

Does this look like a distraction? Photo Credit: vernhart via Compfight cc

Does this look like a distraction? Photo Credit: vernhart via Compfight cc

Music producers have a tendency to be somewhat lonely people, caved up in their music production dens for long periods of time at once. Online media such as Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging and various apps (yes, I’m talking to you neurotic Tinder-swappers) act as roadblocks on the music production street.

Of course, it’s normal to use these media, but when they get in the way of making music, we’ve got a problem.

Here’s a usual situation: you’re on your way making a track, progressing nicely, just getting the drum groove sound tight. Then you get a message on WhatsApp, and the side of your eye detects the incoming message instantly, the phone lying on the desk next to you. Of course, due to your natural curiosity, you need to see who sent you a message and what did they say.

Well, say goodbye to a nice music production flow. It’s gone!

How to tackle the distractions?

Notes are a great way to tell yourself what you need to do. Photo Credit: libraryman via Compfight cc

Notes are a great way to tell yourself what you need to do. Photo Credit: libraryman via Compfight cc

For your own good, you need to start building certain routines. First, you need to plan ahead on what you are going to do next (e.g. “make music for the next few hours”) and stick to it. Prior to start proceeding in your plan, you need to take some precautions in case of possible distractions.

  • Put your phone on silent and place it at the other side of the room, behind you. In this way, there’s no possible way you’ll be constantly looking at the phone, causing a continuous distraction for yourself.
  • If your computer is connected to the Internet, pull out the plug, shut down the router or disable Internet access from your OS. Next time you try sneaking to Facebook, lying to yourself that you are actually making something, you’ll get a reminding “no Internet access available” message. Good. At least you’ll get some work done this way.
  • Take a sticky post-it note, or write down on a piece of paper: “Make music, 2pm-4pm” and have it in your vicinity. This note will remind you to stick to your plan.
  • Make sure to tell your partner, roommate or parents that you are going to make music and you shouldn’t be distracted, until you are finished. They should understand.

In an ideal world…

This dog isn't messing around. You shouldn't be either. Photo Credit: Andrew Zaragoza via Compfight cc

This dog isn’t messing around. You shouldn’t be either. Photo Credit: Andrew Zaragoza via Compfight cc

Of course, in the real world, we will always receive some kind of distractions, since the situation rarely is ideal for having a music making dream session. In the end, it comes down to the personal strength and willpower to decide what kind of man/woman you really are. Are you in the music production game for real, or are you just messing around.

Ultimately, the amount of music you finish will answer this question. The pros in the music making scene always have something to show for.

Do you?

Don’t let the distractions and vices of life take over the best of you.

-JP

Share your own problems and music making distractions below.