Final Mix - where do I start?

Mixing/Mastering advice required

So, I have painstakingly got my 13-track recording and am extremely happy with it.

I now need to mix/master this to compliment all the hard work put into it so far. Semi-competant musician I may be, but recording engineer I aint :0)

I’m sure this has been aked before, but I could really do with some advice on this final mastering process. Help on the following topics would be a godsend:

1) EQ - General Guidelines (cut off vocals at xxxkHz, bass at yykHz etc… etc…)

2) Compression. What settings should I use for master compression? is compression always required?

3) Separating instruments in the mix (panning and eq)

Sorry for these requests. If there is a website with starter’s pointers let me know .

Thankyou all (again)

There are no set rules, but one way to get started is to familiarise yourself with the track, use your ears, and fumble your way through it (I guess we’ve all done that - including mistakes).

Regarding the use of EQ, this EQ primer is another good staring point. Print it out, and keep it next to your monitor when mixing. Lots of good stuff there…

I would go for a mastering limiter instead of mastering compression if possible (i.e. only the loudest peaks gets affected so as to avoid ‘overs’). I recommend the KjaerhusAudio free Classic range of VST plugins, which I use myself all the time…

Panning is always a matter of taste. However, it is customary to keep bass and lead vocals in the middle, and pan the other instruments to either side. Try drawing an imaginary picture of where the performers/instruments would be placed, e.g. on a stage, and avoid ‘hard’ panning (100% to the left/right), at least initially. Hard panning does work well with double-tracked vocals, lush pads, cymbals and doubled rhythm guitars, but it is a rather strong spice to the music, especially when listening on headphones.

I hope this will get you started. Don’t be shy to post mp3’s of your progress whenever you feel confident in your work, and even (especially!) when you get stuck…

Have fun mixing!

regards, Nils

Your soundscape has left, right, front and back. Also the frequency spectrum from high to low. Try to give each instrument its own place to “sit down” in the stereo soundscape by careful EQ and panning and verb application. A little hint is to slightly pan the kick and bass opposite each other, just a few degrees off center for separation.

Here’s a pretty good article that discusses most of the basic concepts and will get you going.

Rip Rowan’s Mixing Article

Another tool that had been daunting to me in the past but has become an absolute necessity in my mastering process is a multi-band compressor. Thanks to Flavio, n-Track comes with one, though I’ve been using the “Final Master” plugin that came with my Yamaha 01X. Its important to first have an understanding of how dynamics processing works before you can effectively use a multi-band compressor IMHO.

In the most basic sense a multi-band compressor is a compressor with multiple dynamics processors (often 3 compressors in one) that can each be dialed to effect a certain section of the frequency spectrum. The problem with using a single band compressor or limiter on master mix material (as opposed to using it as an insert on a specific instrument or voice) is that it will typically get triggered by those things that present the most sound energy in the mix like a kick drum or a bass guitar, the bottom-end stuff, which will ultimately effect the rest of the frequency spectrum in your material. While the processor is squashing that dynamic peak on your kick or bass it will diminish the other areas of the spectrum even though those areas aren’t the issue. So to get the processor to sound transparent (do its job without you hearing negative effects like pumping and phasing) we use the processor very conservatively, and in doing so end up compromising the desirable effects of the processor to avoid the negative ones. So why not have a compressor/limiter that only works on a certain area of the frequency spectrum and leaves the rest alone? Why, maybe we could even adjust what area of the frequency spectrum it acts upon so we could really dial it in, and while we’re at it how about having more than one of these available so we could handle dynamics peaks in, say, three sections of the frequency spectrum? Enter…multi-band compressor!

It took me awhile to figure out how to use it effectively, but it has really clicked for me recently to where I can hear what is lacking in the mix or what needs to be diminished and know what to do and how to use the multi-band compressor to do it. Here’s what it is has done for my mixes:

1. Much hotter mixes than I have ever been able to achieve with single-band limiters or compressors, even stacked.
2. Totally opens the mix up…gives it that fat smooth spaceous character making it easier to help individual voices/instruments find their place in the mix.

I’m really enjoying using it. I’m getting professional results on a budget!

I ALSO use a BBE Sonic Maximizer plugin just before the multi-band compressor on the master channel. I use this sparingly, but it does help with that spaceous character and smoothness of the bottom end. I almost use it as a very limited 2-band eq/tone-control to address broad issues, though the phase alignment processing on the upper end is what really helps.

Another tip: I’ve found that using the multi-band compressor has such a profound effect on the sonic character of the mix that I’ve had to change the way I go about the mastering process. I used to (mainly due to lack of power with my computer hardware) mix material to a master file (master it to a 32bit-float file if you do this), and then do my dynamics processing on that stereo file. I found that I kept having to go back and re-render the file because the multi-band compressor would help certain pieces come out in the mix that I had already compensated for with the volume fader and then they would be too present. So I bit the bullet and started doing processing on the master channel of the multitrack session during mixing with the multi-band compressor inserted. Seems obvious, but I thought I’d mention it.