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Circling back and getting creative

From: Mixing a Rock Song in Pro Tools

Video: Circling back and getting creative

So at this point when I'm listening to my drums in the chorus section, I feel like they are getting a little bit lost. And this is something that happens when you start mixing the drums first, and now you've added the guitars and the vocals and you've kind of got a big sound and you're kind of thinking, the kick is not punching through, the snare is not punching through as much as I want it to. And so usually right around this time what I'm going to do is on my drum submix-- this changes with each mix, but I'm usually, on my drum submix, going to do some kind of compression, generally parallel compression, so that I can inflate those drums a bit so that they cut through in the bigger sections of the song.

Circling back and getting creative

So at this point when I'm listening to my drums in the chorus section, I feel like they are getting a little bit lost. And this is something that happens when you start mixing the drums first, and now you've added the guitars and the vocals and you've kind of got a big sound and you're kind of thinking, the kick is not punching through, the snare is not punching through as much as I want it to. And so usually right around this time what I'm going to do is on my drum submix-- this changes with each mix, but I'm usually, on my drum submix, going to do some kind of compression, generally parallel compression, so that I can inflate those drums a bit so that they cut through in the bigger sections of the song.

And I can do this one of two ways. I could actually duplicate my drums submix track and process that separately, and then be able to automate that. Or I can just add a compressor with a mix parameter. And because I want to be able to automate it, I'm going to go ahead and create a new aux track. I'm going to point that to my drums submix. So now I have two tracks with the drums coming in, and this is going to be my Squash track. I'm going to mute the regular drums. I'm just not using that room, so I'm actually just going to make it inactive and hide it. Ooh, not hide everything, just the room. Let's listen to these.

(music playing) Let me kill that vocal for now. (music playing) Let's see, what's going to sound good here? (music playing) Let's try this Kramer. (music playing) I'm looking to really get a squash and a fill. That sounded pretty good there.

Really digging that threshold in deep. (music playing) Now I've actually got kick tracks going out to the main, and this is really just a decision that you can make. Sometimes people will keep that out of their drum submix, because they want to do some radical compression and they don't want the kick influencing it.

Other times, you want the kick in there. It's just kind of a personal preference. At this point, we'll just throw that in there and see what it sounds like. (music playing) Yeah, it's not bad. (music playing) I kind of like that. I just want to bring a little more power to all that. And maybe I'll EQ this track.

Add a little bit more low-end boost to it, just a bit. Maybe a little top- end sheen. (music playing) Just to compensate for that compression. (music playing) And I'm still not totally in love with the tone of my kick and my snare, and so at this point of the mix, if I'm dealing with real drums, I'll at least entertain the option of doing some sample replacing, just to kind of see, is that sounding better, is it sounding awkward? And so at this point, with my snare, I'm definitely going to need to kind of do parallel processing, because there is all that stuff going on with the drags and the roughs during the chorus sections and the intro. So I'm going to go ahead and duplicate these guys here. I don't really need any of the inserts at that point. I don't really want the sends either. And we'll go ahead and I'll duplicate one of my kicks here, most likely the beater mic.

I'm going to move that out of the kick bus and just set that up to go right into the drum submix. So I've got this guy is going to be my Snare Replace, Kick Replace. Like I said, I just want to hear this. I want to hear this in the mix. I want to hear what it's doing, and I pull up trigger. I'm going to copy it over. So for my snare, I go here to Users, find my samples.

I like this CLA Hybrid Kit here for this song. Let's try that. And it's kind of got a lot of ambience, so I'm going to back that down before I listen. All right, let's set that up. (music playing) Yeah, I like that. (music playing) Increase that input, so we're getting those harder hits, yeah! Really driving that, that's what I want.

Cool! Let's listen to that with the regular snare and kind of blend that to taste. (music playing) Yeah, let's do the same thing with the kick here. You know what? Instead of going through that directory, I'm just going to copy that trigger plug-in over, and now I can just put that kick preset up.

Let's listen. (music playing) A little too much room. (music playing) Now what I could at this point is I could mute these kicks and see if I want to just go with the sampled kick, because the kick is easier to replace.

There is not a lot of weird intricate kick-work going on; it's a straight-ahead rock song, so I could get away with just using the sampled kick if I want to. (music playing) And maybe I'm thinking it might be a little heavy handed for this song. I mean it's not that hard rock of a song. I might ultimately try to choose a different sample, but I kind of liked it kind of blending the two together. And these are decisions that, you know what, I can make all the way up to the end of the mix.

I could actually get this mix to the car. Like I said, I'm working on headphones right now. Once I get to speakers, I could say, you know what, I absolutely hate that kick. I want a different sample. I want to EQ it differently. Don't be afraid to change your mind about this stuff. You have a Pro Tools session. You can close it, go take a break, open it back up, and make tweaks. You can go to the car, you can go on vacation and come back and make tweaks to it, and that's what I'll do in a real mix. (music playing) Let's listen to the chorus, make sure those drums hold up.

(music playing) That's muddy. I knew there was something muddy in that last chorus.

A muddy high guitar part. Let's listen to that again. It comes in the last chorus I think. There it is. (music playing) Let's try to feed that to--I could actually lift the track a bit if I fed that into a delay, kind of match that. So what I'll do is, this is one of the few times that I'll just put the delay right on the track, if it's a guitar. I mean that's how a pedal works, right? So I'm just going to go ahead and put this right on to the track. Let's see what that sounds like with the space echo.

(music playing) Pretty cool! So I'll make sure I've got that kind of panned to one side, and maybe I'll feed that into a bit of my longer reverb to just kind of reinforce that back wall. Maybe I'll kind of do something like that.

(music playing) And there is a guitar solo that's happening somewhere in here, so I want to make sure that I'm treating my elements that don't happen at all parts of the song. One thing that I always do is I always, you know, working on a chorus, work on a verse, and I get to the end of the mix and I'm like, oh man, I never even listened to the bridge. There is a whole other set of instruments there that I didn't even mess with.

So here we can see in verse 2 a new guitar comes in. (music playing) And the tag, it's going to need EQ. Get it out of the vocal. (music playing) So it's kind of doing a counterpart to some of those other guitars up here, some of these guitars.

(music playing) Here. Let's pan it that way. (music playing) Let's take a listen to this guitar solo. (music playing) Now it's got some effects on it already that were recorded there. Again, a little EQ just to rein that in.

Maybe if I really want to make it sound special, just really kind of want to put it out there and just get a quick sound going on, I really like this CLA guitar, just kind of quickly get a sound going, and I like these clear tone presets. It's kind of got some verb, got some compression, it's got some stereo widening. Yeah. (music playing) A little muddy in there. (music playing) And the guitar solo is definitely going to need some automation, right, because it continues into the bridge section where he is singing.

(music playing) So let's just go ahead and do that right now. Anytime I know there is absolutely going to have to be automation, I'm just going to go ahead and do that. (music playing) And there we go. (music playing) Maybe even more. (music playing) Maybe I will use that as just kind of a little exciting moment to go into that last chorus.

(music playing) But I don't want that verb tail to hang on, because there's that sort of moment or breath before the chorus and so what I'm going to do is I'm going to just drop that out so that we keep that breath. (music playing) More like that. (music playing) Yeah! Now at this point, I can start working on some of my bus compression, so I usually like to use a little bit of bus compression.

I don't put it on at the beginning of my mix like some people do. It's really up to you how you want to deal with your bus compression. Some guys don't use it all, and in some mixes, I actually don't use it at all. And so for the bus compressor, you can try the API 2500 here. It was actually designed to be a bus compressor, and the cool thing is it has got a Thrust control, which is basically like a side- chain EQ that allows you to focus more on the higher frequency elements and less on the kick drum that's going to be driving the compressor.

I am actually going to use it in the New mode and we'll use a soft knee, and we're going to go ahead and just kind of listen to this here. And I'm going to use manual make-up, because I find that the auto make-up tends to be a little too heavy handed. I'm going to back the ratio down, I'm going to use an attack of 10 milliseconds, and I'm going to set my release here to-- let's start with 200 milliseconds. (music playing) Just a little bit of gain reduction, just to firm things up a bit.

I don't want to crush it. (music playing) I want to make sure I'm not clipping it either. And at this point, I'm usually going to kick in some kind of brick- wall limiter, so I'm actually hearing it with that brick-wall limiting. See how it's going to stand up to mastering and stuff like that.

You know what? What I really like is the 316; however, what that does, it actually creates some problems sometimes with delay compensation. I just want to make sure I check that I'm still cool with my delay compensation, because it adds so much delay. We can see that it's adding like 6,000 samples of delay, which could be way too much, depending on what else you have going on. I'm just going to load up the Basic 2. I really like that preset. And this is basically a limiter that prioritizes different frequencies, a lot like the compressor has a side chain that's setup to prioritize different frequencies. And I'm just going to get a little bit of compression going on here. (music playing) And then I want to check in on my chorus.

(music playing) And generally, how I check my compressor is I'm just going to link them and bring them down so that I can really compare what it's actually doing to the signal. (music playing) Losing a little bit of the transient punch, but not that much. It is actually pretty good at retaining a lot of that transient punch.

Now at this point, once I add the limiter on, I'm probably going to need to bring my monitoring down a little bit, so I'm not blowing my ears out. Remember, if you feel like your mix isn't loud enough, make sure it's not just a monitoring-level issue. I feel like a lot of people tend to just not use their volume control and they use the master fader a little bit too much. And the master fader is used to optimize your mix, so if I'm adding all these tracks together and I'm seeing the master fader clip, what that means is I'm getting digital distortion. So if I'm seeing this-- (music playing) clip, that's not good.

(music playing) I want to make sure it's not clipping generally before the plug-ins, because I don't know how the plug-ins are actually going to handle clipping. Some handle it well; some do not. (music playing) The tambourine is kind of loud. (music playing) Now here I could, if I want to, I could take a listen to what that BCC is doing to my tracks. Bypass that.

You can go into the channel here and do a group bypass. (music playing) And I can even try different consoles. I could say, hey, what would the Neve sound like? (music playing) I'll pull back some of these effects on my lead vocals, just kind of dry it up a bit.

(music playing) Cool! So right now I have a static mix. I don't have a lot of automation going on, and that's going to end up being a huge part of the mixing process, because there are sections of the mix where things are just not at the right level, and so as it moves into the chorus, the mix, to me, is getting a bit imbalanced.

But for the most part I've listened to all of the tracks, I've attempted to treat those tracks with EQ around the vocal, I've started doing some master bus processing, and the next step would be sort of reevaluating the volume levels and the effects levels of different sections.

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Mixing a Rock Song in Pro Tools

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Brian Lee White
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