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Watch professional mixer Brian Lee White take a rock song from the raw recorded tracks to a great-sounding, polished mix in Avid Pro Tools. The course moves at a quick pace, showing how to establish a workflow for a particular song and make mixing decisions on the fly. Watch as Brian quickly sets initial levels, sculpts the individual tracks with EQ and compression, uses spatial and special effects to create depth and interest, balances the lead vocal and rhythm section, and adds the finishing touches before bouncing down the mix. Brian also stresses the importance of "thinking like a mixer" by being creative and serving the song, exploring ideas that inspire you, and breaking away from the template mindset.
So I took a break from the mix, slept on it, listened to the mix on a few different speaker systems, and I actually made a couple of final changes that I want to make to the mix after hearing it on some larger speakers outside of these headphones that I've been working on. And so I'm going to make those changes, and then we're going to bounce the mix and finish it off. Now one thing that's almost always a problem with mixing completely on headphones is that a lot of your center- channel elements, placing them in the mix are either going to be too loud or too soft when you hear them on speakers.
And in this case I felt the lead vocal was just a touch too loud when I heard it on a smaller speaker system; it just kind of stuck out a little too much. And so what I am going to do is instead of changing the automation that I already have, I'm just going to open up my last plug-in and just knock it down by, you know, maybe just a dB and a half there. And I also notice it was a bit bright. It was a bit harsh in the top end on some speaker systems, so I think what I want to try is I'm just going to play with this EQ here for a bit.
(music playing) Maybe back off a bit here. (music playing) And that's fairly common to have to come back and readdress some of the EQ decisions you made when you're hearing it on different speakers.
Every speaker system, every set of headphones is going to have its own frequency response that's going to accent certain things and play other things down, and so what I'm really looking to do here is just kind of find a happy balance between all the different systems so that the mix translates well on everybody's playback system. Another thing that I notice is this lead vocal part in the bridge--and I should re-label that-- was a bit too loud also, so I'm just going to back that down by a good 3 dB.
That was real loud when I heard it on speakers. And let's just check that bridge section. (music playing) I think that's sounding pretty good. Now, another thing that you'll run into, especially mixing on headphones, or really just mixing anywhere, is when you take that mix outside the studio, especially if you don't have a totally tuned room, you'll find that the level of your kick, either the frequency response or just the overall level on the mix, isn't exactly how you want it to be.
Now working with reference tracks can really help with this, because you can kind of listen to a reference track and then immediately listen to your mix and get a good balance going on there. When I heard it on some bigger Genelecs, I just noticed that, to me, for this song, the kick was maybe just a little bit too powerful. And I think what's going on is I think the sample that I used just kind of has too much sub-energy that I wasn't hearing on the headphones, because these headphones don't go down much below 60, and so there is a lot of sub-energy on that replacement kick that I just don't know if that's working with my sub-kick here.
So what I'm going to try is I'm going to try muting that out and just kind of working with the existing kick, because actually really like the kick drum that was recorded in this song. So let's play with that a bit. (music playing) Maybe give it a little bit more brightness now that we are ditching the sample. See what we've got going on here. (music playing) I want to make sure that cuts through.
(music playing) Cool. And maybe if I was working with a bit more time, I might automate the EQ on that beater kick, just to kind of be a little brighter in the choruses and maybe a little darker in the verses so it's not so powerful during the lighter sections of this song. But it's sounding pretty good now. I'm kind of liking it without that sample. Sometimes sound replacing works well; sometimes it just doesn't quite workout when you listen to the mix on another speaker system. And I could go through a bunch of different samples and find just the right one, but since I did like the original kick drum, I'm just going to go ahead and hide this and make this inactive, not use it.
Now I also thought that the snare could be just be a little more present. Again it's something that's in the center, and it's always going to be these things that are dead center that you are going to have a hard time finding a good volume balance for in headphones. They are either going to be too low in the mix or too hot in the mix. The vocal was a just bit too hot for me, and I felt that the snare was just a bit too low. So I'm going to go ahead and kick up I think the snare replace track. And instead of messing with the automation again, I'm just going to come into the plug-in here and kick it up.
Add a dB, dB and a half maybe. (music playing) I think that's going to work. Now another idea I had as I was listening to the full power of the low end of the mix, especially with that kick drum, I was listening to the kick and I was thinking wow, there is a lot of sub- energy going on. What can I do to give the bass guitar and the kick drum a little bit tighter of a relationship.
This isn't a slow song. It is not super fast, but I really want to gel that low in and so I thought maybe I could try using a compressor side chained to the kick drum to kind of just duck to the bass guitar a little bit, kind of just give them a nice little lock-and-key relationship. I've already done a bit of EQing on the bass and the kick drum in a complementary way, sort of making space for the kick on the bass, but I think it could be cool the key off this Kick Bus--I am just going to activate that key there.
Fast attack--I want to grab it instantly-- and a fairly fast release. I don't want it to modulate with the kick's waveform. Let's try this out. (music playing) Just a little bit. I just want to kind of tighten it up, just the tiniest bit.
And I'm just leaving a little bit of room. I'm leaving a few milliseconds for the beef of the kick to cut through, and I'm just ducking that bass note down just a bit so that the two transients don't fight each other and sound more in unison, more like one note. I think that's going to work really well. So, just checking my list here, I worked with my kick, I've got my vocal down, I made that bass a little tighter. Everything else was sounding pretty good to me. I liked how everything else turned out.
And again, mixing is a very iterative process. So once I bounce this down, I might go listen on those same speaker systems and decide, wow, like I took out too much of the kick drum or I pulled the vocal down too much. So I might come back to the mix and make some adjustments. Thankfully, with Total Recall in Pro Tools, it's really easy. I just open the mix back up and literally in less than a minute, I can make that adjustment and then bounce that out. The longest wait that I have is actually bouncing the revision out.
So at this point, that's what we are going to do. We are going to bounce out our mix. And instead of using Bounce to Disc, what I'm going to do is I'm going to select all of the tracks that are going to my main output, and I'm going to submix them into an audio track and record that. So notice I'm not grabbing anything that's already going into a bus here, just the things that are pointed to main. And that looks good. Cool, so I'm going to take that, send those out to a new audio track. We'll call this TMD Bounce.
So everything is going there. I'm going to record-enable that, make sure everything is going, and I don't have any more mains left over, just checking that. And then I also add my master fader to the TMD Bounce bus so that all my plug-ins come along for the ride. Let's check those, make sure everything is good in there. Yeah that looks good. Cool. I'm adding some dither here at the L316, just some regular 16-bit dither, normal noise shaping. This is going to end up being a 16-bit file. Once I send it out of Pro Tools, it'll truncate from 24 down to 16.
And so now all that's left to do is just go ahead and run it down from the top and record it out. (music playing) Cool! Let that play out all the way out, make sure everything decays.
And then, depending on what I want to do, I kind of like the character of having little things happen at the end there. But if I need it to be more radio friendly, I might just trim that back and do a little fade, fade like that. Maybe let's do like an S curve. We'll preview that. (music playing) And that sounds pretty good.
So ultimately, I think we came out with a really great sounding mix. If I had a little bit more time to work on this, I might play with the vocals a little bit, play with the effects on the vocals. It's really in all the little details that you can spend a lot of time: automation, making tweaks for different speaker system. Typically, a mix is going to take me between four, five to ten hours depending on what I'm trying to do, how creative I'm trying to get with the vocal, how much time I have with the client, how many revisions I have to do.
We spent just over two on this mix, but I really want to reiterate that this is just one way to approach mixing this one song, and these are just some ideas that I had in real time as I was mixing this song. So the real goal of this course and this project is for you to take the mix, zero out all the faders, remove all the plug-ins, and mix it yourself. See what ideas and inspiration you have along the way. See how the tracks are speaking to you.
How do you want the vocal to sound? How are you going to automate different moments of the session to make it more exciting as the song plays out? Again, these are just some ideas to inspire you. I would not suggest or even expect you to follow exactly what I did point for point. Make it your own, add your own voice to the project, and above all, have fun with it. Mixing should be fun, not stressful.
Now, if you want to stay up to date with me and the projects that I am working on and I am mixing, be sure to visit my website, brianleewhite.com, and follow me on Twitter, @brianleewhite, also be sure to check on my other courses on the lynda.com online training library. Cheers, and happy mixing!
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