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Pro Tools 10 Essential Training with musician and producer David Franz illuminates the process of recording, editing, mixing, and mastering in Avid Pro Tools, the industry-standard software for music and postproduction. The course covers recording live audio and adding effects on the fly, creating music with virtual instruments and plug-ins, editing for time and pitch manipulation, creating a musical score, and mixing and mastering a track.
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 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 its own place in the final soundscape. Before starting the mix, I recommend listening to some reference mixes.
Listen to songs that you know very well. Most professional mixers have a number of songs that they know intimately, and they reference these from time to time when mixing. In fact, you may even want to import the reference tracks into your mix session for a direct comparison. You can use the File > Import > Audio command for this. Check out the videos in this course about importing audio if you need more details. Second, I'll 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. Now let's go back to Pro Tools and get a session ready for mixing. One of the first things I'd like to do when starting a mix is to actually check my edits. I want to use fades and cross-fades to make sure that there are no stray clicks or pops at any edit point. So I can zoom in--I'll zoom in on this track right here--and I can see that there's no fade-in on this track, so I'll use my Smart tool, click and drag and create a short little fade-in.
This assures that there's no click or pop that happens when this goes from no audio at all to audio in this clip. Once you've put all of your fades and cross-fades in, and if you have multiple clips on the track, you may consider consolidating all of the clips into one to create one new whole-file clip. To do that all you need to do is click and highlight. Now all these clips are highlighted, and we can choose Edit > Consolidate Clip, and that creates one brand-new file for all of those edits.
And this saves processing power, and it also looks cleaner. Now usually before I do that I would create a duplicate playlist and then make that consolidated clip on the duplicate playlist. So I can always go back to my unconsolidated playlist if I need to. Along with consolidated audio files, it's good to organize your Pro Tools sessions so that your tracks are in a logical order, so you can move quickly in the session. Make sure that you've labeled the tracks well, so if you haven't labeled them, just click on the name of the track and label it here. And you can move them around just by clicking and dragging to reorder them.
If you don't already have one in your session, 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. All tracks routed to the main output will go through the stereo master fader track and whatever we've chosen as the output for that. On our session here, I have Analog 1-2, and you can see that all of the tracks in this session are routed to Analog 1-2, and that means that they all are routed through this track, and this fader controls the output level of the entire session.
Another good tool for organizing your mix session is creating groups. Now I recommend putting all like instruments next to each other in the session and then grouping the tracks together. And you can make micro and macro groups, so you can solo or mute them and check out what the mix sounds like with or without them. So what I'm going to do here is put the Atmo Piano, the Organ, and the Electric Piano into a group, and I just press Shift as I clicked on these track names. And now I can go to Track > Group and these are all of my keyboard tracks, so I'm going to call them keys.
Now if you want more information about using groups, you can watch the video about them earlier in the course. But one of the main reasons I talk about using groups here is because of a great feature that you can use when mixing to show just the tracks in one group. To do that, you can Ctrl+Click both in Mac or in Windows on that group. So if I go down here into the Groups list, press Ctrl+Click, and now it's just showing these three tracks that are in that group. I love this shortcut.
To show all the tracks again I just want to hit Ctrl+Click on the All group. And one other thing that I like to set up usually while I'm recording or when I'm starting a mix is effects loops. And I'll show you why we use them and how to set them up in a separate video, but you can see them over here. I have a reverb and a delay on these aux tracks, with sends routed to them. Now you may also consider adding EQ and compression plug-ins onto the individual tracks where you think they're going to be used in the mix, and you can just go ahead and do that straightaway, right at the beginning of the mix session.
Having EQ and compression on tracks is a pretty standard feature on analog mixing boards, so we can mimic that here in Pro Tools. One cool thing you can do is go to Setup > Preferences and on the Mixing page, we can choose our default EQ and default dynamics processors. And if we do that--I am going to choose Channel Strip here and this Compressor/Limiter here--and when we do that those two plug-ins are going to show up at the top of the list as our defaults basically in our Plug-ins list.
So I will go OK. And when I click to insert here, you'll see these two plug-ins straightaway right here, so we don't have to navigate through multiple menus to get to them. And finally, if you like to use a compressor or EQ on your overall mix, you should add it to the stereo master fader before you even start mixing, so that you know how the mix sounds with it on from the very beginning of your mix. Otherwise if you add the effect in later, your entire mix will change, and you might have to redo a bunch of work.
Now let's talk about some mixing terms. Stereo panning is used to play sound sources on the left side, right side or anywhere between the two speakers. You have stereo panning controls on most of the tracks here. You click and drag to change their position. Oftentimes you'll have stereo tracks that are panned completely left and completely right; however, you can change that if you want of course, and on mono tracks they usually start in the middle but then you can pan left or right for each one of those.
Now I recommend spreading out the instruments in the stereo field and envision what it would look like maybe on the stage with all of these instruments playing at once. Usually lead vocals, lead instruments, kick drum, and snare drum are all panned to the center, but there are no rules for any type of track. Another key term in mixing is EQ positioning. EQ positioning means adjusting the frequency content of the tracks in your session so that they don't interfere with each other very much. This is sometimes referred to as carving EQ holes, and I'll discuss this technique in another video on this course.
The third mixing term that I want to discuss is depth. Depth refers to the feeling that a sound source is close to or distant from the listener. Depth is created using reverb and delay effects and I'll be discussing those in another video in his course as well. Use these three dimensions to envision the physical layout of all the tracks in your Pro Tools session and to balance the sound sources visually. So when you're mixing in Pro Tools, here's the general procedure for 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. First you want to create a rough balance using volume levels and panning. Then you should apply EQ, making room in the frequency spectrum for each instrument. You should add dynamic processing, compression, limiting, gates, and expansion. Add depth and special effects like reverb, delay, chorus, and flange. Then you can set your final volume levels and use automation whenever is necessary.
Then it's time to bounce down the mix and take a listen to what you've got, and you should check your mix against reference mixes and on all different types of playback systems, like in your car, on your friend's stereo, through your ear buds, etc, and then revisit the mix to fix any issues, but always keep your original mix using the File > Save As command for each new mix that you do. 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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