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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.
Every mix engineer has his or her own method for starting and finishing a mix. Some like to start with the drums while others like to start with the vocal. Because each mix starts at a different place, especially now that many producers are mixing their own music during the arranging process, I can't tell you where to start your mix, but I can tell you how I approach many of my mixes. The first thing that I generally do is import Effects templates of Aux return tracks in my I/O setup, and then I start routing my tracks, routing my sub mixes.
Now I'll talk about making and importing things from templates in another video, but what this is going to do, it's going to speed up the mixing process. So I have a lot of my common tools already laid out for me. And then generally what I do in a song like Take Me Down, sort of a rock pop tune, is I'll start getting the drums and the bass. So I got a really solid rhythm section. So I'll start by bringing in the drums. (Drum solo.) Then when I kind of got those rocking, I'll bring in the lead vocal, and again, because the lead vocal is going to be very important and how it sits in the mix is going to be very important, so that the listener can hear every word, I'll bring that in right after doing the drums and the bass.
(Music playing) (Male singing: We hit the town.) (Male singing: And I'll never forget that sound.) Now, if I can get it kind of rocking and it's kind of exciting me when the bass and the drums and the vocal are in, that's great. Now the rest of my mix process is going to be pretty easy, because I'm going to fill in the other rhythmic and melodic instruments around the lead vocal. The reason why I bring the lead vocal in before let's say the guitars or any other element after doing the drums and the bass is generally because those guitars share the same space as the lead vocal is going to take up.
So if I EQ and I mix those in first, then I have to figure out where I'm going to fit the vocal and afterwards. Because I like to prioritize the vocal over the guitars, I'll bring that in EQ it. Then I'll bring the guitars in and the other rhythmic elements in around that. (Music playing) (Male singing: We hit the town.) (Male singing: And I'll never forget that sound.) (Male singing: Tonight I fell asleep at the wheel.) So after the rhythm elements are in, I'll start sort of spreading out any additional melodic parts around the mix, kind of fill them in and then I'll make sure that I EQ those to fit properly.
A lot of times, I'll have to pull some of the low-end out of them and pan them one way or the other to kind of fill around the lead vocal. At that point, I'm going to check it in a dense section maybe towards the end of the mix. I'll generally kind of work while the song is playing back, and I'll kind of run through it a few times kind of as an iterative process making these changes. At that point, everything is in and then I'll kind of readdress any frequency or dynamics concerns, now that all the tracks are sitting in the mix. So is anything masking anything else is the lead vocal being masked by any of those other elements that I try to filling in around it.
At that point, I'll start working on my automation and generally I approach automation as more of a graphical editing process. I tend to work with the mouse and the keyboard more than with the control surface. However, if I did have a control surface, I'd start putting in some basic volume rides, but I started thinking about section dynamics and can I hear everything at each section or things getting lost. Then I'll start thinking about, what I can do to creatively kind of take the mix to the next level.
I'll start thinking more critically about the reverb and the delay and the depth of the mix, and any kind of creative automation that I can do to kind of really pull that mix out to the different sections of this song. Now at this point, I usually have my mix, probably I would say around 70-80% done. It's sounding pretty good. Things are balanced. It's exciting. It's fun to listen to it. It's starting to sound like a record, and I'll take a break. So I'll take a nice long break, I won't listen to it, and maybe I'll go listen to it in the car the next day, depending on my deadlines, and listen to it on a few different stereo systems and I'll take notes.
Either I'll write these notes down or I'll just remember them, because there is definitely going to be some problems maybe with the low-end and the bass, or maybe how loud the vocal is sitting on other speakers. I'll listen to things like laptop speakers, which can really reveal things like the vocal sticking out too much or the snare drum been too loud. And so at that point, I'll return to the mix and then I'll take any of those notes on the levels or EQ or frequency-specific stuff. Then I'll finish off the mix, and I generally consider it at that point it's probably about 95% done.
So if it's for a client, I'll bounce a demo mix, turning it into an MP3, so I can send it off over the Internet, and then it just becomes an iterative process of receiving notes back from the client and sort of making the revisions. Generally, the revisions are to the levels in the mix, because not everybody is going to be able to agree on what's the most important thing, and there's sort of no right way at the end on, whether this should be loud or that should be soft. Again, I can't stress enough that there is no one right way to approach mixing.
There's so many genres out there, what make sense to one producer has no place in another producer's workflow. So I encourage you to try out my techniques and any others you pick up throughout the process. Take the pieces that work for you, and leave out the ones that don't.The goal is to get to a point where you are confident in your core workflow and branch out from there, trying out and archiving new ideas as they come along.
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