As I said, a recipe often makes it easier, but does not mean that you do not have to taste it. It is still a matter of listening, listening and listening again.
Today’s tips focus on two very concrete strategies, or recipes if desired, that you can use when mixing. The first is about creating separation and the second about finding the balance in the bottom package.
The first thing to do before you start mixing (volume, panning and effects) is to locate each instrument resonance stop, the frequency range where the instrument resonates the most, and lower it slightly. This is usually between 100-400 Hz, which has its explanation in the limiting nature of the recording and how instruments are generally constructed. Pick out any equalizer and sweep with a reasonably wide Q-value, not too tight and not too wide, until you hear that it sounds a little extra bad: trapped / dull / bumpy / distorted. You have now found the instrument resonance stop:
Then reverse about 2-3 dB with the same Q-value and continue with the next instrument, on all channels.
What happens is that the so-called frequency masking (when several channels are played at the same time and frequencies overlap) becomes less noticeable because “redundant” frequencies have been chiseled away. Or to put it simply: The mix becomes less mushy. Often, as I said, it is enough to back up 2-3 dB so as not to take away too much of the instrument’s heat and original character. Of course, more may be needed in individual cases and here it is important to listen. A nice side effect is also that the need to boost becomes less as each instrument is now heard more clearly. If you work in this way, before you start the traditional mixing process, you are guaranteed a more good-sounding mix with better separation. A hot tip is to use headphones when looking for resonant frequencies to avoid the impact of the room. The room (even acoustically treated ones) has an unpleasant habit of leading the ear on stray paths, not least in the problem area 100-400 Hz and lower.
The resonance peak changes depending on how the instrument is tuned, which means that a vortex drum or guitar can have different peaks depending on how they are tuned.
The bottom package
A slightly more controversial tip is the so-called VU trick (let’s call it that for simplicity) whose purpose is to find the balance between bass keg and bass, and then build the mix around these. Do the following: Reduce all channels to zero and put on any VU meter the master channel. I myself use Klanghelm VUMT, but a Google search away offers good free alternatives. Make sure that the VU meter is calibrated to -18 (standard on most VU meters) and pull up the base until the meter moves around -3 VU:
Then do the same with the base fixed to 0 VU, at the same time as the bass player is played. You should therefore not set the base level independently, but together with the base shaft. First, set the bass trough level to approximately -3 VU with the VU meter on the master channel (important), then slowly pull up the base until they move around 0 VU together:
This starting position ensures a fairly good balance between bass hook and bass, which you can then build your mix around, without risking overloading the master channel.
But why a VU meter and not your recording program’s regular meter? (dBFS, decibel full scale). Simply because there are different ways to measure volume. In all simplicity, VU measures the mean value, not unlike RMS or LUFS, while dBFS is much more accurate and shows exactly what is happening. The advantage of the VU meter is that it more or less shows what you actually hear. The more you compress the base shaft and the base (less dynamics), the smoother the reading on the VU meter will be. However, I want to lift one of the warning finger to overcompress the bottom, just enough far.
Feel free to ask questions or comment on the article in the comment field below, and we will spin the topic together. Or if you prefer to discuss mixing in the “Mixing and mastering” section of the Studios forum here!
Fredagstipset is a recurring series where Studio writer Jon Rinneby shares tips every Friday in, among other things, recording and mixing. Here you will find all Friday tips.