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See how Ryan West mixes an entire song using only the plugins included in Softube Volume 1. He explains not just what he's doing but why, giving you insights as to how a Grammy nominated mix engineer approaches a mix.
He walks your through his entire mixing process and shows you how to:
- Continuously balance a mix and build the sonic landscape track by track
- Enhance badly recorded guitars
- Replace a plain sub bass track with a deeper and richer sound from Modular
- Create a soundstage around the vocal and place the acoustic elements in a complimentary space
- Use subtle EQ moves to create perfect spaces for instruments to sit together in the mix
- Set up the mix bus for the final touches before exporting the mix
Exercise Files Available In 5 Popular DAWs
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- 00:00 - Start
- 00:0 - Introduction
- 02:12 - Adjusting Volume & Pan of Rhythmic Elements
- 06:30 - Quickly Building the Mix
- 07:09 - EQ & Compression on the Piano
- 12:29 - Adding Reverb to the Strings
- 18:46 - EQing to Make Space for the Vocal
- 26:13 - Filtering the Percussion Loops
- 26:52 - Adding in the Choir & Organ
- 33:06 - Organ EQ & Reverb
- 37:19 - Adding in More Elements
- 38:27 - Revisiting the Vocal Reverb in Context
- 52:22 - Full Mix Pass, Listing and Tweaking
- 56:45 - Acoustic Guitars
- 1:00:17 - Lead Vocal Processing
- 1:10:08 - Processing the Drum Group
- 1:15:07 - Replacing the Sub Bass
- 1:29:03 - Tweaking the Adlibs
- 1:32:17 - Changing the Electric Guitar Tone
- 1:34:01 - Bass Synth Tweaks
- 1:37:19 - Final Mix
Hi! I'm Ryan West, and we're at Dungeon Beach in Williamsburg, Brooklyn today, and we're gonna take a listen, and take a look at a song called "White Lines"—we're doing a remix version—by Chansz Odero, produced by JRuffalo and myself.
We're going to do this mix from scratch, from the very beginning.
So let's get into it! In the case of this remix, what I'm hearing is, is we've got lots of opportunities, lots of little percussion things to play with, some really great acoustic guitars, and some pad type sounds that were created.
There's lots of opportunity to create space in here and to start defining the mix.
I'm going to define the rhythmic elements of the song.
In this case, it's some of the acoustic guitars, all those percussion elements that are in there, of course the kick and the snare.
Then I'm gonna start building that as my base, but I don't want to focus too long on the rhythmic stuff.
I'm going to isolate those for just a minute and hear how those are all working together. So let's do that.
The way this production was done, the kick drum and the snare drum are coming from this HeartBeat plug-in from Softube.
Reverb was added in the plug-in itself.
If we're gonna adjust that, I'm going to go ahead and adjust it right in the plug-in and just keep everything right in HeartBeat.
I'm going to just mess with the reverb on that snare just a little bit.
It's still a big reverb, but I like what it's doing here so I'm going to run with that for now.
Let's take a listen to our percussion stuff all together, and just see how that's working.
I'm right inside the HeartBeat plug-in.
I just changed the EQ setting here and boosted up a little bit of the high-end, just making them a little bit brighter.
What I'm going to do right now is I'm going to start adjusting some volumes.
For that percussion loop, I'm going to bring those into the center a little bit —that clap sound is really, really stereo.
And I may actually let that out a little bit more later, but I want to narrow in this percussion stuff just a little bit to keep it defined in the center of the mix, so that I can use the rest of the side space for other cool stuff.
I just took this little percussion thing.
I just took it and put it off to the right just a little bit.
That thing's pretty stereo too, that little kick drum thing, but I think that actually changes into a loop a little bit later so let's take a listen to how it sounds when it's playing the full loop.
I don't want to collapse that one, that's got some cool stuff that's happening.
We'll go back to that later when we're deciding where to put the other elements that we want to occupy the left and right side.
Let's take a listen to it all together again and make sure that everything is working together and balanced.
Check it out.
Notice I'm not really doing anything about EQ or compression right now.
I'm gonna address that later. Perhaps I'll use it, perhaps I won't.
It really all depends on what works in context with the rest of the elements.
I'm gonna work quickly here.
I'm gonna start adding in a bass and a piano, 2 of the other major elements that are in here.
Pretty quickly I'm gonna get the acoustic guitars in there.
I might even sneak the lead vocal in there pretty quickly because I want to hear how it's all coming together.
What I'm hearing with this piano is I don't think it's really fitting.
It's a little bit too bulbous on the low end.
I want to thin it out a little bit.
I'm going to go for a Channel Strip plug-in because I'll probably want to do a little bit of compression too.
I'm going to pull up...
Let's see... The Summit Audio Grand Channel.
I have this circuit down here on the bottom left of this plug-in and I can use it in 2 different modes.
It's either a Low Cut for the Detector circuit on the TLA-100 compressor, or—if I switch it to Input mode— then it's really just a high pass, and that's how I'm gonna use it.
I'm gonna go ahead and high pass everything from 120-130, and below.
Let's listen to it real quick while I'm doing that, so I can hear it in context.
I cut off everything below 100 and I think that's working for now, but I'm also gonna take out around 180 Hz too with this EQ.
It's definitely fitting a little bit better.
I don't know if that's going to be too thin, but I can always go back and revisit that later, and make sure there's enough of that low end on the piano so it sounds natural.
I'm also gonna compress it a little bit. Now with pianos...
I like to get the attack popping a little bit so it sounds a little snappier.
I'm gonna start with a fast Release.
And a medium Attack. And—I don't know, give it...
6, 7, 8 dB worth of gain reduction and see if it's doing what I want it to do. Let's check that out.
I think it really only needs a couple of dB worth of gain reduction.
It's getting a little bit snappier, but the more compression I put on with this compressor, it's getting a little too soft for me, I'm gonna keep it light for right now.
I noticed I'll have to gain-match. I've got to change my gain so that it's the same loudness with the plug-in bypassed as it is with the plug-in instantiated. Let's fix that real quick.
I'm gonna quickly start getting some instruments in here and just take a listen as I start unmuting stuff, and maybe finding a couple of places to put things in stereo, or I might adjust a few volumes here.
We'll just go a couple of minutes, take a listen to as much as we can in context.
I'm gonna try as quickly as possible to get that lead vocal in there, because it's so important. It's a big part of the song and if we leave that out for too long, we're gonna make decisions for the mix that may not work with the lead vocal in.
I did some things pretty quickly here.
I wanted to move quickly to hear more elements of the song.
I got the acoustic guitars in there, they're doing this little strum thing, they're panned off to the left and the right.
There's this really sort of eerie pad-type sound that was created with the acoustic guitar and I snuck that in there.
I'm starting to hear where things I think should belong in this mix.
I unmuted the violas.
I heard right away that those sound kind of thin, and they sound very dry.
Maybe what I'm gonna do quickly is bring up some sort of verb, or some sort of acoustic room simulation so that I can put the violas in a perspective where they sound like they belong with the rest of the mix.
I've already got a plate verb set up and I'm gonna try it.
I don't know if it's what I really want.
I may also set up a room verb so that I can maybe put those in a little bit different perspective.
But let's try our plate verb. That's on Bus 1 and 2.
There it is right there. Let's take a listen to those really quickly in solo and add some of that verb to them.
I just adjusted the reverb a little bit.
This may not be the final setting that I'll leave this on, but I'm just trying to get these violas in a space that feels good to me.
You know really with mixing, a lot of this is about feel.
I didn't necessarily know exactly what I was going for, I just dived right into the plug-in and adjusted things.
I made it a little bit shorter, I made it a little bit darker, and I added a little bit of predelay to it so that I can make it feel more like it was in a physical space.
That's my whole goal there with the violas.
I want to make them sound like they were performed in a really great sounding room, instead of being dry and sort of upfront.
What I'm gonna do next is grab an EQ, because they are a little bit nasal and bright.
I'm gonna try to reduce that a little bit and see how they fit into the mix.
Again, I want to do this in context to hear how it's working with everything else, so I'm gonna take them out of solo while I EQ and try to fit them in where I think they belong.
This particular EQ that I chose is from the Trident A-Range consoles.
It's a little bit of an unconventional layout, because...
instead of knobs, there are sliders, and there are 4 bands to choose on this particular EQ.
It has a high pass and low pass, like a lot of other EQs, but it also has a Saturation knob, which is kind of cool.
In this case, I'm just using it as a basic EQ.
I didn't have to use the high pass and the low pass.
Really all I did was set this band to 3 kHz and I pulled out just a little bit there.
This band is set to 1 kHz, I pulled out just a little bit there.
And this last band is set to 150 Hz and I popped up about 5 or 6 dB worth of gain on that particular frequency because I felt like it was going to warm it up a little bit.
This is a very unconventional EQ, but if you know what the controls are like then you can operate it just like any other EQ and that's got a really specific sound to it.
I'll go ahead and bypass the EQ and the reverb, listen to how it was before, and then we'll put it back in to see if we made a good decision.
I also brought the volume down to set them back further in the mix.
This is not a featured instrument. It's gonna be part of a whole bunch of other stuff. There's more strings to come in later.
For right now, I think I'm happy with where it is.
I think moving forward is the good thing to do, so let's do that.
The lead vocal has a certain brightness to it, and the way the rest of the instruments are sitting right now, there's so much high-frequency stuff that the vocal is getting lost in between all this stuff.
I think I'm gonna decide right now to choose a couple of these brighter elements, and maybe some of this percussion stuff, and maybe darken it up, maybe do a little bit of a low-pass EQ on them so that I can create a space for that vocal to be upfront, center of attention.
Let's mute a couple of things and see how it works.
Ah ha! Now listen to that.
I just pulled out that electric guitar and I muted the violas that we were just working on, and then all of a sudden, the vocal has a space for itself.
Now we can start to hear that there are some elements that are too bright, and those ones that I just muted are prime candidates for us to cut down on the top end a little bit to create that space for the vocal.
Also that percussion loop that I just isolated has got like this clicky stuff that's happening on the top end, and I think it's just a little bit much, it's fighting the vocal a little bit.
Alright. So I'm gonna grab an EQ, and I'm gonna pull out a little bit of that top end.
We'll go back to the Trident A-Range, it's a good all-around equalizer.
It's got a nice sound to it, so why not? As with everything, we've got to hear it in context.
I just hit the low-pass filter down at 9K.
That seemed to take out a lot of the clicky stuff on top.
Let's see how that works with the vocal.
I think that really helped a lot.
But I'm also gonna pull out a little bit more I think.
I'm gonna use this band, select it to 8 kHz and then drop that back a couple of dB and see where we end up.
Take a listen.
I'm also gonna put on a 100 Hz high-pass filter because I don't want anything below there.
It's just gonna end up mucking up my mix and I want that space for more important stuff.
This little percussion loop should be kind of small, and not too clicky on the top end.
Let's take a listen to it with the high pass as well.
I also brought it down a little bit in the mix and it now sits underneath the vocal, where I want it to be. I want it just to be a rhythmic element that's pulling the song along further, pulling you further into the song.
I'm gonna put that other percussion loop back in and take a listen to how it works.
We removed a bunch of the elements that were in the high-frequency range.
I'm gonna start adding them back in and see if there's anymore of that stuff we can either pull back in volume or we can maybe take some of the high end out so that the vocal stays upfront where we want it to be.
I think it's a good candidate to darken up a little bit as well, so I'm gonna select the same EQ again.
I think that's gonna be our favorite EQ for this particular mix.
I'm gonna low pass that at 9K, same ways I did with the other loop, and see if that makes it feel a little bit better.
I'm gonna listen to it in solo real quick and then pop it into the rest of the mix.
That's definitely working for me, but I'm also gonna add a little bit of 3K, just so I can get it to pop through, underneath where the vocal is.
I'm cool with that where that's at for right now.
We might go back and revisit that once we get everything back in, but I'm just making small moves right now to start fitting everything together so it starts to sound cohesive.
I'm gonna get other stuff back in there, which is that guitar we took out, and then we'll move on pretty quickly to get the violas back in and see where all that sits. Here's the guitar.
What was the goal of all that? We just wanted to make sure that the vocal had its space to be in.
We're gonna get the bass in there, we're gonna get the rest of the acoustic guitars in there, and then some effects, and some more strings, and we're just gonna keep moving forward. Let's do it.
I don't know if you can detect this, but the way I'm feeling right now is that between the percussion elements and the way those strings that I just put in were moving, the rhythm seems to be a little wonky, and a little weird.
So I'm gonna go back and adjust the balance between those things so that it feels like it's moving.
I'm gonna take the lead vocal out so that I can hear just those things more clearly, and then we'll pop the vocal back in as soon as we get a chance.
I'm gonna do the same thing with this particular loop that I did with the other percussion loops, I'm gonna pull some top end out of it.
I think the hi-hat is driving the top of the percussion mix in a little bit of a weird way, so I'm gonna try to deaccentuate just a little bit.
Again with that 9 kHz low pass, it took just enough of that high-frequency stuff out of there to let the hi-hat sit back in the mix a little bit.
We've got a couple of sounds here that only come in in a few different places, but I want to make sure they're in there pretty quickly too.
We've got a couple of choir sounds and an organ.
They mostly happen in the beginning of the song, but also during the bridge sections. Let's go right to the bridge, pop those sounds in and see how they're working.
I'm gonna put a Channel Strip on that one as well because I want to pull out some of the low-frequency stuff so that it fits into the mix a little bit better, and I am gonna add some of that verb that we added before on the strings to try to put them in the same space and make it sort of like a pad sort of sound out of them.
I'm gonna go ahead and select the Summit Audio Grand Channel again, because it's got all the controls I need on it.
I'm going to put that into that Input Low Cut mode, like I did before, and just pull out a whole bunch there.
Let's check that out.
I know I did that really quickly, but it's because I heard that it needed some gain reduction, and to be smoothed out a little bit, so I added some compression on the TLA-100 with a fast Attack time and fast Release.
I also took out a pretty decent amount of 180 Hz just to sort of thin that thing out.
Again, we got to hear this thing in context and we got to do our before and after. I'll bypass and unbypass so that we can tell whether the decisions we made were the right thing for the composition or not.
Now that we gain-matched it, we're still a little bit loud, so I'm gonna pull that down.
I feel like that needs even more compression.
I changed the Release from fast to medium because I felt like it just needed to be a bit smoother.
I didn't want it to quite let go of those transients so quickly.
And I'm getting even more compression.
Let's keep listening to this till I feel like it fits.
I think the best way to do that is to sometimes just go extreme, and get a whole ton of compression on there to see what it sounds like.
Then back it off until you feel like it's in the right place.
I think that's definitely in a better place.
I mean, sometimes you need 7 to 10 decibels worth of gain reduction and sometimes you don't.
But let's keep moving on, and make sure that we're working towards the direction that we want.
I'm gonna do exactly the same thing with these choirs.
It was recorded by the same people, at the same time, with the same microphone in the same room, so guess what? I'm gonna use the same plug-in. Of course, we'll make sure we adjust it because every track is different.
One thing I didn't do yet on the other choir was to add some of that reverb to it, but I'm gonna do it on this one, and then go right back to the other one and add a little bit of reverb to that too.
I want to put them in a space. Choirs aren't really ever performed or recorded in a completely dead space, so we want to make sure that they sound live.
Ok, back to the other choir.
I just want to get a little tasty reverb on that sound.
That's better. While we're at it, we're gonna pop this organ track in that goes to that same section in the bridge.
It's the only time it pops up in the song, but let's go ahead and address it now, since we've already got our choirs starting to fit.
I think I want to put that organ in the same space of the choirs, and I'm gonna imagine... like you know...
You had this pop track like this, and then as an afterthought, maybe we went recording a choir and an organ in a great big church. That's kind of how I'm feeling it.
Like I'm feeling like the choir and the organ may have been recorded together, in the same space.
So again, I'm gonna go for my go-to Channel Strip here.
Put it into Input mode.
Cut some of this low-frequency stuff.
Probably compress a little bit.
I like to have a fast Attack time and a medium Release time.
Then I'm gonna adjust this couple of bands of EQ up here to taste as it's playing with everything else. So take a listen.
I want to hear the choir and the organ together because those are the things that have to fit, right? Let's add some reverb to the organ.
And try to fit it together with the choir.
The choir is a little bit left-heavy the way it was recorded.
I'm panning the organ a little bit right to give it some dimension.
I want there to be some separation between those 2 things.
I may also try panning the reverb send a little bit to the right to see if I can make that organ feel like it's coming from over here and the choir from over here, almost like as if we were in a real physical space where these 2 things happen at the same time. A performance, right? Check it out.
I guess that my goal was to try to treat these things like they were happening in a physical space.
What we'll do as always, is we'll take off the reverb and we'll take off those 2 plug-ins and see if we got that, see if we made it more like a performance than a dry recording.
So let's take it off. And take a listen.
This is dry, untreated.
I think putting performances in a believable space is not really a trick that you play on listeners, but you're asking them to come along on a journey with you to listen to this record.
If you don't put it in a believable space, if it sounds unnatural in some way, then I think people are a little off-put and they really don't even know why.
That's your job as a mixer as to figure out how to engage the listener.
And my decision in this case was to put it in a physical space to make it more believable, and I think we did that.
So moving right along, I'll keep adding the stuff back in until we get everything in the mix.
Another little backward cymbal. I think I'm gonna leave that dry, but I want to make sure I have it loud enough in the mix.
We've got a little bit more strings to add back into the bridge section.
Let's take a listen to those.
That's a string and choir together.
I definitely want some of my reverb on that.
I want that to sound really lush, like this big performance in like a huge church or something like that. It's got to sound epic, right? Why don't we try some of that reverb on the lead vocal and see if that's the space we want for the lead vocal? And maybe we'll add a little delay, maybe we'll create a whole new reverb for the vocal, but let's take a listen and see what that sounds like with the verb we've got already.
That reverb is working really well with the instruments but I don't think it's exactly what I want for the lead vocal.
At least I'm gonna try something else. It never hurts to try something else.
I mean we live in DAW land, and I can have 4 or 5 different reverbs up if I want to.
There's no reason I have to stick to just one.
I want a little bit different texture, so I'm probably gonna try something a bit longer, maybe a little different diffusion.
Let's just play around and see what we got.
I'm gonna play with a couple of different settings.
I'm gonna try something that has a longer time, so basically, a longer reflection time, so the reverb is gonna last a longer period of time.
I'm also gonna play with a couple of different settings.
I'm gonna change the Diffusion so that it might sound like a little less gritty, or a little bit more gritty.
I'm also gonna be able to play with the High Cut filter and the Tone control on this particular reverb to make it sound darker or brighter, which can push it further away or bring it closer to you.
I'm gonna try a couple of different things and see what sounds cool.
That's really what it's about anyway. Does it sound cool? To hear what happens with the Predelay and how it can really change a reverb, try really extreme settings.
Try zero Predelay, and then increase it until it becomes longer, and what you'll notice is that the reverb sort of steps away from the vocal.
It keeps the vocal out front without the reverb sort of surrounding it and washing it out.
I like to do that with the vocals, because...
The vocal is the most important thing, I want it to be here, I want to be really intimate.
So I want to find that right space for the reverb to sort of sit behind the vocal and give it dimension.
A lot of times, I'll use more than one reverb on the vocal too.
A lot of times I find myself using a longer reverb like this, and I might even set up a room reverb to give it a little bit more dimension, and ambience.
We'll try that too, but first let's work with this one.
I'm gonna increase the Predelay time. We'll have it set at zero to start and I'll just keep pushing it.
Later, when the Predelay goes past 30ms or so, you're really gonna start to hear the difference.
You hear what's happening there? You're almost hearing a little of the slapback once we get past 30 ms or so, because that amount of time is really noticeable.
30 ms becomes the point at which for me it separates the reverb from the vocal itself.
Let's try even more extreme and see what it sounds like.
Let's say... 75 ms. This is gonna be pretty different now.
As a reminder, this is what it sounds like at zero.
It's pretty different.
You hear how the reverb is responding to the vocal like right away? If I increase that Predelay time, then it sort of gets away from being right on top of the vocal and sort of being behind it a little bit.
This will become even more noticeable when I darken this reverb up a little bit with the Tone control.
One of the things I always notice when I increase the Predelay to that long is that the reverb all of a sudden sounds a lot longer.
And I always end up adjusting my Time to be a little bit shorter for the reverb because it doesn't need to be that long.
If it's too long, it starts stepping on the vocal again when the next vocal comes in.
So I would tend to make that a little bit shorter.
Like I said, I'm gonna darken this up as well.
I'm gonna take this Tone control, slide it more towards the Dark, and in effect, what's that doing is it's kind of like a multiple EQ move where it's rolling off high end and it's also ducking stuff that's in the range of the vocal, which is from, like 2K, no matter where, at 5K, 6K, something like that.
I'm gonna darken it quite a bit so the effect is extreme, and then we'll go back to this Neutral setting and you'll hear the difference between the two.
Ok, that's pretty dark. I'm gonna put it back at Neutral.
Check that out.
That's pretty different.
What it also helps to do is it also helps to push the reverb back a little bit when it's darker, and since there's not that many bright reflections coming from the reverb, it lets that vocal stand out front there.
You have to decide in your mix what's gonna be the best thing.
Sometimes you want a brighter reverb and to take up a whole bunch more space.
In our case, we have a lush arrangement with strings, and percussion parts, so we do want to hear, we want to get that ambience, and the vibe of the reverb.
I'm gonna play around with that and put that back to a darker position.
Then I'll play around with the Time a little bit.
And I'll also use the High Cut to take out even more high frequencies.
But I'm gonna wait to do that until I put the vocal back in with the rest of the track, so I can hear it in context.
Ok, that's getting there. Of course I want to hear it in context.
One of the other controls that you have on a lot of reverbs is a Density control.
I think it confuses a lot of people.
In plain English, what it really does is it controls how gritty or how smooth the sound of the reverb is.
And it really is just sort of changing the space in between the reflections or the echoes in the reverb itself.
Let's play with that. Right now, it's at kind of a...
a medium-high, or almost a high setting, so those reflections are really close together and kind of smear together a little bit, so you hear less the little delays and a smoother reverb sound.
So take a listen. This is high Density right here.
Now I'm gonna go the opposite direction.
All the way down to Low Density.
Take a listen. You can hear the little reflections in there.
It's almost like little slaps you can hear in there.
I know it's kind of a subtle difference, but it can make the biggest difference in the world, especially on a lead vocal where this effect is gonna be kind of upfront and center.
But enough with playing around with these little things out of context.
Let's take it out of solo, put all the other stuff back in, and listen to how it works with the rest of the mix.
This mix is starting to feel like it's coming together.
Now we have a long way to go.
However, it's starting to feel like it's cohesive.
I'm gonna get the rest of the background vocals in here.
I need to thin those out a little bit, so I'm gonna go back to my Grand Channel and do a similar operation to what I did before.
I'm gonna use my Low Cut filter in Input mode to take out some of that low end.
I'm gonna sculpt the low-mid range with this band of the EQ, and I'm gonna use a little bit of compression.
Let's take a listen to that background vocal in context with the rest of the mix.
While I'm listening, I'm gonna go ahead and bypass the plug-in so I can hear it the way that it was, and then I'll put it back in so we can hear it with our processing.
Check it out.
I think that smoothed it out and that's really what I wanted to do, I just wanted to lay that background vocal back a little bit so the lead vocal comes through.
Now we should put our lead vocal back in and make sure it's working that way.
I'm gonna continue on getting these other vocals into the track.
I'll just sneak those in right behind the lead vocal.
I'm gonna put the same reverb on those as I have on the lead vocal but I'm gonna give it a little bit more reverb so that I can push them back a little bit behind that lead vocal.
Maybe we could do something fun with those.
Maybe we could dirty them up a bit so they sound almost like a strange reproduction of the lead vocal, kind of like an echo.
Let's play around with it. I'm gonna go back to my Grand Channel.
I think I'm gonna make some really quick moves here.
I'm gonna filter out a whole bunch of low end and even some high end.
Somewhere around there.
I want even more out of there.
Let's make this extreme.
I think I want some saturation there.
This is what this knob is good for.
Little texture differences for things like this.
I'm gonna thin it out even further.
I want that to be —not really a radio effect, but I want it to be thinner so it sits behind the lead vocal, then we're gonna add some more effects to that thing and just sort of make it it's own little thing.
Ok. That's pretty thin.
I'm gonna add a little bit of extra reverb to it, and of course, we're gonna listen to it in context.
That's kind of where I want it to be, but I don't want to get too lost in there right now.
It kind of feels right, I'm sure I'll go back and adjust more of it later.
Now I'm gonna get this last little vocal in here and guess what? We got all our stuff in the mix.
We can go ahead and take a listen to it from beginning to end and get a real sense of how the mix is moving.
That's just a little ad-lib that pops up in a really quiet part.
Do we want to do anything with it? Any reverb? Maybe not.
It could be a nice texture difference, so we'll just leave it dry.
I'm gonna live with that decision for right now.
I'm not sure that's gonna be the way that it ends up in the mix.
But it's fun. I like it.
And fun is always good.
I do think I'm gonna adjust this reverb a little bit.
Now that I'm hearing all this stuff in context, the reverb might be a little bit dark and a little bit too short.
I'm just gonna change that really quickly.
That's a little bit better.
Now is the time for us to go back to the beginning of the song and listen to the whole thing in context from beginning to end.
I want to make sure that it all feels right because we made decisions in isolation and in just certain parts of the song, but obviously it has to all work together, that's really, really important to get a cohesive mix.
We're gonna do that right now.
It's starting to come together.
I think it's still thick in a couple of places like, I think, one of the things that I could pay attention to next are some acoustic guitars that are just a little bit too loud or too fat.
I made a couple of level adjustments while we were listening back, I don't know if you noticed, but I brought a few things down.
I brought some of the strings down, I brought the bass down a little bit because it seemed like it was taking up too much space.
We're gonna address these acoustic guitars.
I'm gonna put them in solo and listen to them before I do anything.
I think they're a little bit thick, we can probably compress them.
I'm gonna make them sit in the mix a little bit better.
Let's hear what they sound like in solo.
Even professionals forget their guitar tuner sometimes, but we're gonna work with this! This is what we've got.
It's a little bit wonky, but...
I think when we take them in the mix in just the right way, you won't even notice it, it's just there to add some texture.
I want to thin those out just a little bit and compress them just a little bit. So guess where we're going? Back to old trusty... the Grand Channel.
So again, I'm gonna pull in my Input Low Cut.
Remember there's pretty much nothing under 100 Hz on a acoustic guitar or a vocal that you're ever gonna need, so feel free to cut away.
I always do.
Alright. I'm gonna take a little bit more of the low-mid range out of there.
And pop them right back with the rest of the mix.
Let's see how that's working.
I think I want to hear some reverb on those things too.
Let's try the first reverb we have set up, the shorter one.
And see if that works.
That sounds a little sexy to me. Let's see how that works in the mix.
I think I want to bring out the string sound just a little bit, so I'm gonna add a little bit of 2.2K, with kind of a wide bandwidth setting so it's not so focused narrowly.
So let's check that out.
Alright. I think I'm getting a little bit more of that string sound.
I can hear the picking and the strings just a little bit.
But I think I'm gonna bump it up at 2.7K and see what that sounds like. Think it might be the right place for it.
I want those to ring even more.
So I'm gonna give it a little bit more of that, and a little bit more of verb.
That's a really good starting place.
We can always go back and adjust those later but they're starting to feel like they belong there.
One thing we did not get to yet, I did not add any processing to the lead vocal because I wanted to save that until I had a bigger picture of the mix so that I knew exactly how that lead vocal was going to fit in.
I'm gonna jump right in and... play that lead vocal back in solo, and I want to listen to the dynamics of it.
It may not even need any compression.
Sometimes I'll leave the compression off the lead vocal and I'll control the dynamics and the volume just with automation.
Let's see what's happening with this one.
It definitely needs some smoothing out.
A gentle compression could help there too.
I'm gonna do a trick that I've done for years.
I'm gonna use 2 different compressors on this vocal.
At least that's what I'm gonna try right away.
The 2 different types I'm gonna use is more of a...
Opto-type compression or a Tube-type compression like we have on the Grand Channel, and then I also want to use a FET compressor.
On a lead vocal, a FET compressor can be a really cool thing to bring the vocal very far forward and have it sit in front of everything.
Maybe that's what I want to do here.
I'm gonna try it anyway and we'll see what comes out.
First, I'm gonna use this FET compressor.
You can change the order of these things too.
If you want to use the FET compressor first, and then the softer compressor, or Opto, or Tube compressor second, try it! It can work well either way, it really depends on the song.
You'll have to swap them back and forth and see which one works best for the song.
That's what we're gonna do. I'm gonna try the FET compressor first, and I'm gonna start with a 4:1 Ratio, a medium/fast Release, and about a medium Attack.
This particular FET compressor has a couple of other controls on it.
In particular with this one, you can change the frequencies at which the detector cuts off.
What that means is if I turn this knob up here to 200, it means that everything below 200 Hz is not going to trip the threshold detector for the compressor.
If a frequency below 200 is louder, then any of the frequencies that are above 200, and I have this set to 200, it's not gonna trip the detector on the compressor, so it won't start compressing until the threshold is breached by anything above 200.
With a vocal, there is pretty much nothing there below 100 Hz anyway, so I'm gonna set this around 150 Hz, just in case something sneaks through the crack.
I don't want that tripping my compressor.
I would kind of like the way that that's working right now, but I want to try the Grand Channel without the FET compressor on it, just so I can hear how that might compress the vocal.
It's really kind of key to try these different things to decide which one is really going to work best for the song.
Don't be afraid to try. I mean, we live in a plug-in land.
You could put 10 plug-ins up here if you want to.
Just bypass the ones that don't work and when you find the sound that you're looking for, just get rid of those other plug-ins.
We can save so many versions in Pro Tools, or Reaper, or Logic, or anything else that you use.
You can try endless variations.
In this case, I do want to use this TLA-100 to smooth it out a little bit.
Then I'm gonna put the FET compressor after it and give it a little bit more push.
That's what a FET compressor is really good for.
Whether use it on vocals, or drums, or on a mix bus, it allows you to sort of push the sound a little bit harder.
I'm only getting a couple of decibels worth of gain reduction on both of these compressors, but it's the combination of 2 different types of compression that gives me the sound I'm looking for here.
This is a really good starting place.
I'm gonna keep working with this compressor for just a second and get it closer to where I want it to be.
I think using those 2 compressors together gave me like a nice dynamically stable vocal.
I don't want that vocal to move around too much in dynamic.
This song... She's not really singing that strongly.
It's not a big powerful vocal, so I need to make it dynamically stable and bring it forward just a little bit so that it is the star attraction in the mix.
After all, the vocal is always gonna be the star attraction, right? Unless there's a guitar solo.
I'm gonna listen from earlier on in the song to make sure that the vocal is sitting in a place that makes me happy.
What strikes me right now is that there are sometimes where I want to just bring some really kind of cool delay effect in on that lead vocal, to sort of extend the vocal in the little blank spots, in between the breaths, the phrases, and the sections.
Really quick, I'm gonna set up a delay here.
I'm gonna make 2 distinct mono delays.
And then we're gonna pan them a little bit.
And I'm gonna make sort of a spatialized delay effect.
It might be a really short one, let's try a few things out.
So I've got 2 mono returns here.
And I'm gonna send both of those to my mix.
I'm gonna pan one left, and one right.
It's just a starting position, we might change that.
We could bring them in just a little bit.
And I'm gonna give them both mono bus inputs.
And we'll put a Tube Delay on both of them.
Let's start with a faster delay.
And we're gonna go 8th notes.
And we're gonna make the Mix 100%.
And pull some of that low end out like we did on the other one.
I want to send stereo from here.
Let's take a listen to that lead vocal and see if we can make a delay that gives us a nice space behind the vocal.
I think I like that. I'm gonna rock with it for now It gives a little more dimension to the vocal.
It makes it sound a little more exciting.
One of the things I'm hearing right now though...
I think I want to group some of my drums together so that I can process them together.
I could maybe compress them a little bit so that the loops kind of...
work the rhythm a little bit better.
I'm gonna take these couple of percussion loops here and I am going to add the clap to that, and I'm gonna take all of these guys and send them over to a bus by themselves.
Create a Auxiliary track here.
Assign that to my Mix.
And assign the Input.
So now, all these drum tracks should be going through this bus.
I'm gonna try using this FET compressor to kind of make these drums move a little bit more.
I'm gonna do about a 4:1 Ratio, a pretty fast Release, and a medium Attack time.
I'm gonna start pushing the compressor pretty hard, and see how it sounds.
Remember too, on this compressor we have a Parallel Inject control here, which means I can have it completely compressed, or completely dry, or any setting there in between.
What I'm gonna do is I'm gonna adjust the compression the way I like it and then I'm gonna probably roll back somewhere between compressed and dry so that I can get the blend that I want.
That's basically parallel compression, but you can do it right here in this plug-in rather than having to set up another Auxiliary return and then blend those together.
Remember I told you about that control for the Detector circuit? This is where that's really useful.
I don't really want that compressor to respond to that little kick drum that's coming through right there.
So I'm gonna turn that up to around 300 Hz or so, and let the compressor work on the stuff that's above it, rather than that kick drum that's coming through.
It's kind of pumping, like it's making the drums move in a different way.
Of course we want to check this in context with the mix and make sure it's what we really want.
Then we'll be able to back off the totally compressed signal and add some of the dry signal back in so we get just the blend we want.
I'm gonna pop this stuff back into the mix to listen to it in context.
I'll be able to bypass this, and then put it back on, tell really what it's doing, whether it's adding something special to my mix or not. I think it's going to, but let's try.
It's doing something pretty cool there, but I'm gonna back off the compressed part of that mix and add a little bit more of the dry back in. Let's see how that works too.
It might be a little extreme, so I'm just gonna...
adjust it just a bit here, a little less compression.
I'd say it's definitely different. It sounds more exciting to me.
There's a little bit of a level difference there, but can you hear how the claps and some of the percussion stuff seem to last a little bit longer, and they seem to have a little bit different snap to them? That's where parallel compression for drum groups can really work well, especially if you're working with live drums, things like overheads, or room mics.
Using compression in this way can sort of bring the energy forward.
While I was listening to that, I was playing with the Attack and the Release time of the compressor.
I want to time it to how I want the rhythm to move.
You just have to listen to it, open up the Attack time and make it slower so that the transient at the beginning of the drum hits comes through the way you like it, and then play with the Release time between fast and slow to make sure that it moves right with the rhythm of the song.
So I was both listening and watching the needle at the same time, and seeing it go back and forth, and seeing the way that it interplays with the beat of the song.
After working on the lead vocal and getting back into listening to this track from beginning to end, I'm hearing something that I'm not quite sure I like.
This bass sound—while it's ok— it's kind of dull.
Let's take a listen to it. I'm gonna put it in solo.
It's kind of falling flat for me.
While there's some things that I could do —you know, "tricks in the mix"— I could maybe add some distortion or some overdrive to it, or maybe EQ it...
I think in this case what I'm gonna do is just replace it with a better sound.
Sometimes, that's the best solution, if you have the option to do it.
In this case, I have the MIDI track for that bass here in the session, and I'm just gonna find a better sound.
I am gonna pull up... Modular.
If you're really into this kind of stuff, it's extremely flexible.
It's got all the different modules where you can add a VCO, you can add filters, mixers, and route it all kinds of different ways, and create all kinds of different sounds.
I want something slightly more aggressive, so maybe something that's got a buzz on the top end.
But I also really want to keep that really fat bottom, that really big low end.
So right now we're gonna start off with a basic sine wave.
Go over right there. That's pretty easy.
And let's just take a listen to it. I'm gonna solo it for right now.
And I'm gonna mute the bass that we had in there, because it's just not working. Bye bye, bass! That's kind of cool.
But I think I'm gonna try a square wave. Maybe that's gonna...
be something closer to what we're looking for here.
So I'm just gonna open up that filter, and put that one right there.
Let's see what that sounds like.
Definitely a lot buzzier, but way too buzzy for what I'm looking for.
Let's just try filtering it out a little bit.
That's a little bit closer. I want to let some of that top end back in there, so I'm gonna open up the filter a little bit more.
I want to hear that in context. It's nice and thick down there in the bottom, and it's definitely a fatter sound to what I had before.
It's more lively, and more exciting. Let's see if it works.
That's a heck of a lot better! That thing sounds like it has life to it now.
With the other bass, it was just kind of dull and sitting there.
Not too exciting.
Now I'm gonna find the frequency where it's kind of a little bit more aggressive in the low mids, and I'm gonna dial out that just a little bit so that the sub bass stuff can come through a little bit more.
I'm also gonna compress it a little bit.
I'm going to use... Summit Audio Grand Channel again.
Ok, I think that's right there in that zone somewhere, so I'm gonna put that on subtractive gain.
That's already working a lot better for me.
I'm gonna compress it a little bit. And...
Well, actually, I might compress it a lot.
Remember that function we talked about earlier where I can put this Low Cut filter on either the Input or the Detector circuit? Here's a great place to use the Detector circuit.
I don't want to compress all that sub bass energy.
I want to let that through, I want that to really sort of expand and bloom when it hits that low note.
So I'm gonna cut that all the way up to 80, and let's check that out.
What's happening now is the compressor is not going to reach its threshold for anything below that frequency that I just set up at about 85 Hz.
That's definitely smoothed it out.
I'm gonna listen to it one more time, because I might even want to compress that more. I want that bass to sit solid, right there.
I don't want it to move.
Alright. The last thing I'm gonna do with that bass is dial in a little bit more of that top end, because I like the grit that's happening right there, but I want more.
I'm really feeling good about where this mix is, and I think I'm gonna go ahead and start playing around with stuff on the Master Fader, just to glue it together a little bit more.
I think on this mix, I want to preserve as much of the initial transient attack of the drums and the vocals as possible.
I need a compressor that's flexible enough to do that.
That means I need Attack and Release controls.
I'm gonna go for a trusty old faithful FET compressor, because that's got all the controls I need on.
I'm gonna go with a modest Ratio, somewhere around 4:1, kind of a fast Release time, and a medium/slow Attack time so I let all those transients through.
I don't want to grab those drum hits or the vocals as soon as they come in, I want it to smooth it out just a little bit.
Remember on this compressor, we have this Low Cut for the Detector.
I don't want this compressor touching anything that's below 100 Hz, or maybe even a little bit higher.
I want that bass to come through nice and lively.
So I'm gonna set that up to, say 115 for right now.
I'm gonna play back a chorus of the song, and I'll put it on loop, so that we can sort of A/B this.
I'm gonna start without the compressor on, and then after a couple of bars, I'm gonna put it in.
Do you hear how it brings it together just a little bit more? This is mixing. Mixing is little subtle moves like this where you can do bus compression on your drums, or you can do bus compression on your mix, and you can glue certain sections together and that's what makes a cohesive mix.
It makes it all come together and sound like it belongs on the radio.
I still feel like, even though we don't want to go to the Mastering stage and try to get this thing loud, I think there's another level we can go with this mix.
That's something else that I'm also gonna be using on my 2-Bus processing.
In this case, what I'm gonna reach for is this Drawmer S73.
This is a pretty unique tool. This is not something that you'll find in any other plug-in or any other piece of hardware.
This has a bunch of different preset settings that are pretty cool.
I want to make this mix a little punchier.
They do have a preset in here called Punch.
And on this particular plug-in, there's not a lot of controls.
It's got this Amount setting, which is essentially what percentage of dry and wet signal that's passing through this, and then it has this Air setting, and we'll toggle that on and off and you'll hear what I mean.
I've got the Amount set all the way down to zero, and I'm gonna turn the Air function off.
We also have a Mix blend control on this just like the other plug-in.
I'm gonna turn that all the way to Wet, because I want to hear exactly what this thing is doing. Then, of course, towards the end, we can blend that back and put as much Dry or Wet signal in this as we want, and blend it in parallel right here in the plug-in.
That makes it pretty easy.
I'm gonna play back the mix, during the same chorus section, and I'm just gonna go ahead and start turning this Amount up.
I'm gonna probably keep this around 30 or 40%.
Let's go ahead and bypass this and A/B this a little bit, and see if we like what it did.
Like I said, I always want to get my mix as far along as possible before I ever do anything on the mix bus so I can have opportunities like this.
I can use processors to give my entire mix a lift.
I kind of like that, I'm gonna leave that there for right now.
Next, I'm gonna turn the Air button on.
It's gonna open up the top end just a little bit, and maybe add some harmonic excitement to the sound. Let's check it out.
That definitely opens up the top end of the mix.
Is it too bright? I don't think so.
I'm gonna balance the amount of the first process that we put on, which was that Punch control, with how much Air I'm getting when I turn that Air switch on.
So I'm gonna turn up the Amount of that Punch control right there, and then I'm gonna listen to it with the Air, and that Punch control turned up to 35 or 37%, something like that, and I'm gonna A/B that and see if it's doing something I like.
I really like what it's doing, but it's a little extreme.
Here's where the Mix blend control comes in.
I can back this off and get just as much of those 2 effects in balance as I like.
I'm gonna start with it Dry, then I'm gonna add it in slowly until I think it's hit the sweet spot.
I definitely feel like it's giving my mix a lift.
I'm gonna do just a little bit less of it.
And a little bit less of the Punch.
And see how I like that.
The mix is sounding pretty cool at this point, but there are a couple of other things I want to address before I call this one done.
There is a vocal ad-lib that comes in and it's just totally dry, there's no FX, there's no reverb on it.
There's no delay or anything else like that.
I thought that was gonna be cool, but it seems like it's kind of sticking out a little bit.
I'm gonna go back and address that again.
It's just this vocal right here. I'm gonna play it for you.
Kind of cool, but it's kind of out of place now because we really messed with everything else and we put really cool effects on the vocals, so I'd like to try to do something different with this one.
I'm going to play around with a plug-in we haven't looked at just yet.
And that is the Fix Doubler. This thing is pretty cool.
It's got a lot of different stuff on it, but mostly, it is a doubler plug-in.
It includes delay and modulation, and it's got lots of cool different presets.
We're gonna play around with it for a little bit.
It's got this Auto Double function on. I'm gonna leave that on.
I'm gonna put this in Stereo and see if I can get a cool stereo effect on that vocal, since it's sort of like really dry and right in the center.
Let's see if we can push it at the sides a little bit.
Even that default setting is kind of cool.
I'm gonna stick it in Stereo mode and see what it does.
I mean, that's kind of interesting already! Let's see what happens when we change the Sweep.
I don't know how much I really want to mess with that, but I want to play with these knobs.
Let's see what the Delay Offset will do to it.
Not too different, but... Let's play around with these wave types.
I think that's pretty cool.
Almost immediately I liked what I heard.
Let's put that in bypass and listen to the way it was before, completely dry with nothing on, it sounded really naked, sitting there by itself.
That's pretty sexy! I think I'm gonna run with that.
It's a really cool effect, especially in stereo when you're listening in your earphones, or your iPhone, or your iPad, or whatever you have here.
It's gonna be a nice little surprise, a little ear candy.
I want to hear it one more time.
Pretty cool! One of the other things that I heard in this mix, and I think could be more interesting, is we have an electric guitar that plays a really simple line.
And it's nice, it's a good sound, it was tracked well, but I think we can make it a little more interesting.
I'm gonna use the Vintage Amp Room, and then I'm gonna select their AC130 type model.
I know it's gonna be bright, so I'm gonna turn down the Tone and the Brilliance.
But what I'm really looking for here is a little bit of this Tremolo.
Guess what we can also do? We can also go here to our stereo delay and add a bit of that. Let's see if that works.
Ok. I'm liking where it's going, but I think I need to move that microphone a little bit back from the cabinet.
I'm catching too many of the transients, it's a little bit harsh.
One of the great things about this plug-in is you can adjust the position of the microphone and find the tone that you want.
So I'm gonna play with that for a second.
Ok, that's a little further away, and it sounds further away.
Let's hear what it sounds like in the track.
I like that, that's a lot more viby! Well, tremolo-y! The last thing I'm gonna address in this mix for now is I have this sort of like low buzzy synth patch, but I think it could be even buzzier, I mean, this is a pattern with me now.
I like to take these synth patches and rough them up a little bit.
I'm gonna go for a bit of saturation on it.
Let's listen to the way the bass synth patch is right now.
I think we can get a little bit rougher with that.
Let's throw this one down in the dirt.
I am going to take this Saturation Knob and I think I'll leave it on Neutral for right now.
Then I'm gonna start adding some saturation until it tastes the way I'd like it to. Dirty.
That's definitely more exciting.
We don't have a gain match knob on here, so we're gonna have to work with it.
I'm gonna bring the fader down a little bit, put it back in the mix, and adjust to taste.
That's definitely giving me some more attitude. Now I like it.
I'm gonna play the mix back and adjust the volume so that it sits in the right place for me.
That's a lot more aggressive, and it works really well, because it's a completely different texture than some of the really smooth stuff.
We've got these choirs, the strings, and the acoustic guitars, they're really beautiful and clean.
They've got this great high fidelity quality to them, and then there's this dirty little bass just lurking underneath.
I like that kind of stuff.
It always seems to make a mix sound more exciting when you've got one or two elements that are gritty like that and you put them up against nice pianos and choirs, and organs, and strings, and things like that.
I love contrast, I think it makes a mix better.
If you take a look at this mix —I'm just gonna scan here on my mix page— if you can see, not every channel has a plug-in.
Why is that? Because not everything needs processing.
I'm making decisions based upon what I think it needs, not the idea that I have to put a plug-in on every channel.
Sometimes producers—and a lot of times producers—will give you some really good sounding stuff already and you don't have to mess with it.
One of the keys to a good mix is knowing when not to do something.
That's just as important as when to apply something.
As always, we want to listen to our final mix from the beginning to the end to get a sense of how the whole thing moves, and see if there's anything that we haven't addressed that we've got to take care of before we put this thing to bed.
It sounds like a mix! Thanks again for joining us on this video. See you next time!
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Softube Volume 1:
- Summit Audio Grand Channel
- FET Compressor
- Trident A-Range
- Drawmer S73
- Saturation Knob
- Vintage Amp Room
- Bass Amp Room
- Fix Flanger & Doubler
- TSAR-1 Reverb
- Tube Delay
In addition to many Platinum, Gold and Diamond RIAA certifications, he's been twice nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy and has a further seven nominations to his credit. Ryan has also participated in numerous discussion panels with mixing heavyweights Tony Maserati, Joe Chiccarelli, Michael Brauer, Andy Wallace and mastering engineers Howie Weinberg and Bob Ludwig.
A skilled multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Ryan also produces music for film and television. As of 2012 over 60 million albums have been sold worldwide that contain a credit to Ryan West.
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