Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools
Illustration by Richard Downs

Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan


Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

with Brian Lee White

Video: Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan

Going into a mix with a solid plan or at least a general direction is a great way to keep on task and prevent yourself from getting lost in the sea of minutia. Let's face it. Mixing can be a highly technical detail -oriented task, shaping the sounds of individual tracks, scrutinizing every note and sound. It's easy to lose sight of our core goal. Creating an interesting and compelling mix that compliments the song's message, ultimately serving the song in the vocal and delivering that idea to the listener effectively.
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  1. 14m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 12s
    2. The past, present, and future of mixing
      6m 20s
    3. Strategies for mixing and mastering
      5m 38s
    4. Using the exercise files
      1m 40s
  2. 40m 24s
    1. Mixing "in the box"
      5m 9s
    2. Setting up the studio: Speakers and acoustics
      13m 12s
    3. Staying organized: Effectively prepping the mix
      10m 50s
    4. Managing system resources during mixdown
      11m 13s
  3. 41m 38s
    1. Introducing the Pro Tools Mixer
      2m 23s
    2. Understanding mixer signal flow
      3m 42s
    3. Using inserts and plug-ins
      7m 4s
    4. Working with plug-in settings
      5m 1s
    5. Using sends and creating FX returns
      6m 55s
    6. Submixing with aux tracks
      4m 30s
    7. Using groups while mixing
      3m 46s
    8. Using master faders effectively
      8m 17s
  4. 21m 12s
    1. Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan
      7m 45s
    2. Using volume and pan to balance the mix
      11m 18s
    3. Knowing when to process: Mix problems vs. mix solutions
      2m 9s
  5. 1h 3m
    1. Understanding the mechanics of sound
      3m 53s
    2. Learning the basics of EQ: Frequency-specific level control
      4m 29s
    3. Using DigiRack EQ III
      16m 3s
    4. EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative
      7m 18s
    5. EQ workflow example 1: Kick drum
      5m 39s
    6. EQ workflow example 2: Filtering loops
      5m 10s
    7. EQ workflow example 3: The "telephone" effect
      3m 7s
    8. Mixing tips and tricks for EQ
      17m 36s
  6. 1h 16m
    1. Understanding dynamics and dynamic range
      2m 1s
    2. Working with dynamics processors
      2m 57s
    3. Using the DigiRack Dyn III compressor/limiter
      10m 6s
    4. Balancing and shaping track dynamics
      3m 19s
    5. Using gates and expanders
      9m 23s
    6. Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance
      5m 47s
    7. Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals
      10m 0s
    8. Dynamics workflow example 2: Drums
      9m 29s
    9. Mixing tips and tricks: Dynamics
      11m 37s
    10. Building parallel or "upward" compression
      7m 53s
    11. Reviewing dynamics concerns: How much is too much?
      3m 28s
  7. 47m 49s
    1. Using time-based effects to add depth and width
      3m 23s
    2. Using DigiRack D-Verb
      14m 27s
    3. Using the DigiRack delays
      9m 18s
    4. Mixing with reverb
      7m 59s
    5. Mixing with delays
      6m 19s
    6. Mixing tips and tricks: Creating mix depth
      6m 23s
  8. 18m 8s
    1. Working with the Creative Collection
      9m 8s
    2. Building distortion and saturation
      9m 0s
  9. 37m 33s
    1. Understanding automation
      4m 10s
    2. Recording real-time automation moves
      7m 6s
    3. Viewing and editing automation
      10m 17s
    4. Automating plug-ins
      7m 36s
    5. Automation strategies for mixing
      8m 24s
  10. 29m 31s
    1. Understanding the characteristics of a great mix
      7m 2s
    2. Working to reference tracks
      4m 35s
    3. Avoiding some common pitfalls
      7m 50s
    4. Building healthy mixing habits
      3m 36s
    5. Crafting your mix from start to finish
      6m 28s
  11. 1h 5m
    1. Understanding mastering
      4m 15s
    2. Bouncing the mix
      7m 9s
    3. Working with general mastering strategies
      8m 50s
    4. Using limiting and compression to maximize track level
      10m 57s
    5. Working with multi-band compression
      7m 9s
    6. Understanding sample rate, bit depth, file formats, and dither
      7m 30s
    7. Using Pro Tools for CD track sequencing
      10m 11s
    8. Compressing audio for the web
      9m 41s
  12. 44m 51s
    1. Tips for evaluating plug-in processors
      6m 51s
    2. Using EQ plug-ins
      5m 35s
    3. Using dynamic compression plug-ins
      11m 3s
    4. Using reverb and delay plug-ins
      10m 46s
    5. Reviewing additional plug-ins
      10m 36s
  13. 57m 18s
    1. Effectively using saturation/analog style effects
      13m 40s
    2. Setting up side chains
      7m 5s
    3. Master buss processing
      5m 34s
    4. Creating and using mix templates
      6m 54s
    5. Surround mixing
      6m 22s
    6. Dealing with plug-in delay and latency
      6m 26s
    7. Drum sample replacing
      11m 17s
  14. 32s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools
9h 18m Intermediate Aug 20, 2009

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Once recording and editing are finished, audio engineers can take advantage of the training in Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools to punch up the final output. Digidesign Certified Expert Brian Lee White covers all the basic mixing tools that every producer and engineer should know, from using EQ to add clarity and focus to using compression and limiting to maximize track levels within a mix. Brian stresses the importance of setting up a solid mixing plan prior to any work in Pro Tools, and gives advice on the best plug-ins for each stage of the process. Exercise files accompany the course.

Topics include:
  • Using the Pro Tools Creative Collection to add clarity, punch, width, and depth to a mix
  • Recording real-time automation moves for future replication
  • Building healthy and profitable mixing habits when putting a final mix together
  • Knowing when to process the audio of a track
  • Using saturation effects to capture that "analog" sound
  • Working with limiting and multiband compression during the mastering process
  • Dealing with plug-in delay and latency in a mix
Audio + Music
Pro Tools
Brian Lee White

Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan

Going into a mix with a solid plan or at least a general direction is a great way to keep on task and prevent yourself from getting lost in the sea of minutia. Let's face it. Mixing can be a highly technical detail -oriented task, shaping the sounds of individual tracks, scrutinizing every note and sound. It's easy to lose sight of our core goal. Creating an interesting and compelling mix that compliments the song's message, ultimately serving the song in the vocal and delivering that idea to the listener effectively.

A great mix can take a great song to the next level, while a bad mix can heavily mask that genius and be a real turnoff for the listener. Here are a few things that I like to consider when I begin to mix. First off, what is going on in the arrangement, what's going on with the vocal? So, do I anticipate any problems with the tracks that I have in the current session? Was it recorded poorly? Are there editing problems? Is something out of tune or out of time? I am thinking about things that are outside the realm of mixing that I might need to correct before I move into the mixing and mastering stage.

So, if I produced or arranged the song, it's likely that the mix has already taken a direction during the production stage. So, I generally just think about extending this. Now, if I didn't produce this song, what I'll do is I'll discuss with the producer, or the song writer, the direction that he or she thinks the tune is moving at and get some ideas about how they envision the song and maybe ask them for some reference material that they see the song sounding like. At that point, I'll start getting sort of emotionally invested in the song, I'll sort of pump myself up about this song, and generally when you are working on your own music, you hopefully already pumped up about your song, but a lot of times, if you are mixing someone else's music, it's really important to kind of get really juiced-in and into what you are doing and this can be hard for some people, especially if it's a genre that they don't like.

So, what you can either do is don't work in genres you don't like or learn how to sort of get yourself out of personal listening mode and into sort of engineered mixing mode where you can really engage in whatever material you are working on. Now, the next thing I usually like to do when approaching a mix before I even push a fader is kind of make sure that I understand the genre or the listener group for the style of music that I'm going to be working with. So, is anything typical in this genre, as far as, mixing goes, or the vocal is generally really hot, really compressed, maybe they set low in the mix.

At this point, I'll bring in some reference material to my session and kind of listen to that and try to listen to as much music in that genre as possible. Again generally, people that are making their own music are already very familiar with their own specific genre, but if you are working on someone else's music, it's important to kind of connect with the producer on the specific aesthetic goal that they are going for. At this point, I also consider who is going to be listening to it. So, if it's a MySpace kind of thing or if it's a thing for audio files, that's going to mean two different approaches to sort of monitoring and kind of adjusting the mix for those two environments.

So, MySpace thing might be sort of heavily data compressed, and I might need to pay more attention to how it encodes into MP3, whereas an audio file project, I want to sort of listen really critically on some great sounding speakers and not worry so much about how it sounds on ear buds, for example. Next thing I'm going to do is I'm going to listen to all the tracks in this session as they sit. So, possibly from a rough mix that came from the production stage, possibly not and at this stage, I'm going to kind of listen for an overall direction that I want to take the mix.

I like to, at this point, pick sort of what I like to call a stylistic adjective. So, then I want to kind of be a shiny mix, maybe a dark or a deep mix, maybe it's going to be intimate or huge or very small. I try to imagine the finished mix in my head and then later on I'm going to use these sort of adjectives sort of as an overall guide when making more focused decisions, and when I'm EQing something, I'll ask myself is this going towards the overall result of making the mix big or making the mix intimate or dark, and then I'll think about what elements will be the focus of the mix, right? What elements are active foreground elements and what are going to be background elements that are going to fill around those foreground elements? Now generally, the vocal of the lead instrument is going to be that foreground element and that's where the track is going to put most of its focus and I want to make sure that I compliment these main elements effectively with secondary elements.

What I'm going to do is continuously ask myself during every decision, is this decision getting me closer to my goal, mixing is only half technique and the other half is going to be sort of aesthetic and artistic direction. You can't ignore that, right? It's sort of strategy and tactics. You can have tons of tricks, but if you have no strategy to glue them together, they are really useless in the end. I like to write down notes, as I'm mixing, to make sure I keep on task and so I don't get lost in again that sea of minutia, thinking about a sound of a snare drum for two hours, when really the listener is not going to pay attention to that too much.

I once heard an engineer-- I don't remember his name. This was in a magazine article. He referred to a mix as sort of like a movie treatment and you being the director. So, as a director for a movie, you get a script and you think about, well is this going to be a really high energy, lots of special effects, lots of tricks and everything like that kind of movie, or it's going to be pretty straightforward and let the story and the characters kind of guide all of our aesthetic decisions. And you can do the same thing when you are mixing. Let the song kind of guide you towards where you think the mix should go.

When you are mixing, I generally suggest that you move through, at a moderate not a fast pace, but not too slow. I find that even with experienced mixers, it's easy to get overly infatuated with one element in the mix and really you just need to keep your eye on the bigger picture. Now, if you don't have any idea of where to start your mix and sometimes, I don't have an idea of where the mix is going or where this song needs to go as far as the mix is concerned and what I'll start doing is I'll just start pushing things around, organizing the session, moving tracks, routing my sub-mixes and effect sends and it's getting my brain sort of into this mixing workflow mindset and ideas usually start flowing at that point.

So, don't be upset if you don't know where to start, just start organizing that session, and ideas will come to you. And at that point, I'm usually going to try to emulate a reference track. A lot of times, I'll identify the key sounds that make a great mix happen and I'll work towards those. Now, you might not know how to get those sounds from your favorite mixes, but the first step is having a goal of what sound you actually want to work towards. Above all, you definitely want to have fun and be creative.

Remember, there is no right way. There is no best mix. So, try every idea. You never know what might work. Just remember that the mix is not the end-all and be-all of the song. And while it can heavily influence a listener's perception, sometimes keeping it simple and clean is the best solution, really just allowing the song to speak for itself.

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