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When I think about mixing a multi-track arrangement, I like to use the analogy of a busy multilane freeway. The tracks are like the lanes. In the song we will mix in this video, we have 22 tracks and when we mix, these lanes have to merge into two, the left and right outputs of our stereo mix. It's our job, as the Mixing Engineer, to direct this traffic. It's not an easy task. Things we need to watch out for are bottlenecking due to competing levels and competing frequencies, and we have to do this all in a way that sounds like music. Luckily, with Logic, we don't have to do this alone.
We have some indispensable tools at our disposal to help direct sonic traffic. Here is a song we are going to mix. It's called Nathaniel. It has 22 tracks. Let's take a look at the Mix window, Command+2. You can see it's got a lot of tracks in it. I like to break up the mixing process into five distinct modes of operation, not necessarily done in this order. We have Volume level, Panning, Processing tools, Automation, and Effects. First one, Volume levels of the tracks.
We use Track faders. It's a delicate balancing act. Remember that your left and right stereo output, over here, is the sum of all the tracks. This is where the sonic freeway merges. On a Track Fader, when it says 0, that's unity gain. This means that the sound level that is inherent in the regions in the track is unchanged as it leaves the track. Logic allows a volume gain of +6 decibels when the Fader is at its highest. That's 6 decibels louder than the unity level and a Track Fader goes all the way down to minus infinity, which is silence.
You can double-click on a Track Fader to enter a more precise value, let's say -6, it goes up to -6 DBs. 6 DBs below unity. You can also Option+Click at any time in a Track Fader. That will return it to unity. The next aspect is panning of the tracks. Think of your mix as a stage. Panning will help to determine what's to the right or the left of the stage. Pan by clicking directly in the center of the circle and moving the mouse up to pan right and down to pan left. You have values of -64 on one side, and 63 on the other. Why? If you paid attention in the MIDI videos, you'll remember that MIDI controls have a total value of 127. That's 64+63.
The next aspect are plug-in inserts. Primarily, we use compressors to control loudness dynamics in the track and we use Equalizers, or EQs, to control frequency ranges. Your tracks are like the colors in an artist's palette. You can blend their frequencies and loudnesses like sonic paint. As you can see, this first track has a compressor and an EQ inserted. These are the hallmarks of our processing tools. The next aspect is Automation. This is where we introduce movement in our tracks. Maybe an effect moves across the sonic stage from left to right, or commonly will ride the level of the vocal during the song to get the most out of it.
Let's go back to the Arrange window for a second. If I type A on a keyboard, we can see the automation. Currently, we have no automation written for the song. Type A again to get back. Let's go back to the Mix window. Finally, we have Effects. We like to use these to create space and depth around our sounds to make them more interesting or make something stand out. Logic has some great plug-ins for this, like Space Designer or Tape Delay. Now that you have a bit of a primer, you are ready to start mixing. Don't get frustrated. Mixing is one of the toughest things you can do in audio.
Remember, good mixing takes time. Don't expect to have a slamming mix in minutes. It commonly takes many hours of listening and refining to get it just right.
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