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A mix is the combination of the recorded tracks in a session reduced to two tracks for stereo playback or to six to eight tracks for surround sound playback. The goal of any mix is to create a total sound that helps support the purpose of the song, putting the listener into an appealing acoustical space by adjusting the volume levels panning, EQ and effects of individual sounds in a creative and appealing way, while giving each element in the mix its own place in the complete soundscape.
Before starting a mix, I recommend listening to some reference mixes. Listen to mixes that you know very well. Most professional mixers have several CDs of music that they know intimately and they reference these from time to time when mixing. In fact, I recommend importing the reference mix tracks into a Pro Tools session or into your mix directly. Check out the videos about importing audio to learn how to do this. Second, I recommend choosing some songs that sound similar to your current project or that have a sound that you're aiming for in your mix.
For example, listen to the levels of certain instruments such as where the vocal sits. Is it deep in the mix or is it riding on top of the instruments? Also listen to particular stylistic effects like how much reverb is used on the snare drum. Next, it's time to get your session ready for mixing. Check all of your edits, use fades and crossfades to make sure that there are no straight clicks and pops at any point. You can zoom in and check all of the insert points here, in fact, I see that there is no fade in here, so I'll probably grab the Smart tool and just do a quick little fading like that. Do this for all of the tracks so that you don't have any surprise clicks or pops.
You may even consider consolidating multiple regions on a track into one. Here's how you do that. I'm going to highlight all of these regions in this track and then choose Edit > Consolidate Region, and that creates an entirely new region that combines all of the regions into one, and this can save our processing power and it also looks cleaner in your session. Before consolidating, I usually recommend creating a duplicate playlist and then consolidating the duplicate playlist but we'll carry on here using what we've got.
Second, you should organize your Pro Tools session so that your tracks are in a logical order so you can move quickly in the session. Label all the track names. Fortunately we already have those named here. Make sure to create a Stereo Master Fader track so that you can monitor the Stereo output from the session and control it with just one fader. Third, you should make Groups. Grouping tracks together and putting all like instruments together or next to each other in the session can help you stay organized. Let's create a Group of these three top tracks here, got the piano, the organ, and the electric piano. So I have highlighted these using the Link Track and Edit Selection button here, and now I'm going to choose Track > Group. I'll call this the keys group and click OK.
A really great feature that you can use when mixing is to show just the tracks in your one group at one time and to do that, you can Ctrl-click on the Mac on the name of the group to display only that group in the mix of the Edit window. So if I come over here to the keys group and I press the Ctrl key, click on it, I'll only see the tracks in that group. Now I'm actually going to go down here and Ctrl-click on the ALL Group to bring everything back. Let's switch over to the Mix window, and the next step is to set up any inserts like an external hardware compressor or set up effects loops that you're sure that you want to use in the mixing session. This could include Reverbs like this or Delays or coarse effects or anything that you really want to use in the mix. I'll discuss how to create an effects loop in a later video.
Next, you may also consider adding EQ and compression plug-ins on to the individual tracks where you think they are going to be used in the mix. Having EQ and Compression on tracks is kind of a standard feature of most analog mixing boards, so we can mimic that here in Pro Tools. If we go to Setup > Preferences, over in the Mixing page, we can choose the Default EQ, go straight to the EQ 3 7- Band and Default Dynamics which means a compressor, we'll choose the standard Compressors/Limiter from Pro Tools, click OK.
And now when we go to the Insert, we can actually see that these are the defaults right there, so it's really easy; we don't have to go through the menus to choose. We can simply just insert them right away. If you like to use a compressor, EQ on your overall mix added on the Stereo Master Fader track before you even start mixing, so that you know how the mix sounds with it on from the get go. So we can choose our Compressor right here.
If you end up adding in this compressor after you have been mixing, your entire mix will change and you might have to redo a bunch of work. So I recommend adding this in at the beginning of the mix if you want to use one at all. Now let's talk about some mixing terms. First is Panning. Panning is used to place sound sources on the left side, the right side or anywhere in between in your stereo field. Use these panning knobs here to determine where you want to place each instrument in the stereo field. I recommend trying to spread out your stereo field with the different instruments, and envision what that would look like, maybe on stage with all these instruments playing at once.
The second mixing term I want to discuss is EQ and how to position tracks using EQ. EQ positioning means placing a sound source within one or multiple frequency ranges to separate it from other sound sources. Some call this carving EQ holes. Now I'm going to talk about applying EQ in another video in this course. The third mixing term that I want to talk about is Depth. Depth refers to the feeling that a sound source is closer, distant from the listener, and is created using Reverbs and Delay and I'll also be talking about Reverbs and Delay in other videos in this course.
But you should use these three dimensions to envision the physical layout of all the tracks in your Pro Tools session and balance the sound sources visually. So when you're mixing in Pro Tools, here's the general procedure of how you want to go about it. Use this list as a loose guide for the mixing procedure. Note that the steps here don't need to be performed in this particular order, and that some steps will probably overlap each other. So first you want to create a rough balance using volume levels in panning, then you want to apply EQ, making room for each instrument in the frequency spectrum. Next, you want to add the dynamics processing that is Compression/Limiting, Gates, expansion. Then you can add your depth and special effects processing including Reverb, Delay, Chorus, Flange, etcetera.
Next, you should set your final volume levels and use automation where necessary to get the volume levels correct. Then you can bounce down your mix and check it against reference mixes and on different playback systems. Finally, you should revisit the mix to fix any issues, and keep the original mix and use the Save As command if you're going to create a new mix. I'll cover all the topics listed here in other videos in this course, and if you can keep your mix process loosely aligned with the steps outlined here, you'll be on the path to creating excellent sounding mixes in Pro Tools.
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