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Mixing a Rock Song in Pro Tools
Illustration by John Hersey

Using automation to create excitement and contrast


From:

Mixing a Rock Song in Pro Tools

with Brian Lee White

Video: Using automation to create excitement and contrast

So now that I've got a solid mix going on here with static settings, what I'll start thinking about is how I can automate the different sections to accommodate how the arrangement changes from section to section. So namely, is my lead vocal loud enough, especially because I only have one lead vocal in this session; I don't have a whole bunch of doubles or things like that that come in during the chorus. I want to make sure that I can hear that. So as I listen through this song, I'm just kind of--listen for any last EQ, compression changes that I need to make, as well as any level changes as I play through this song.

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Mixing a Rock Song in Pro Tools
2h 12m Advanced May 04, 2012

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Subjects:
Audio + Music Mixing Audio Effects
Software:
Pro Tools
Author:
Brian Lee White

Using automation to create excitement and contrast

So now that I've got a solid mix going on here with static settings, what I'll start thinking about is how I can automate the different sections to accommodate how the arrangement changes from section to section. So namely, is my lead vocal loud enough, especially because I only have one lead vocal in this session; I don't have a whole bunch of doubles or things like that that come in during the chorus. I want to make sure that I can hear that. So as I listen through this song, I'm just kind of--listen for any last EQ, compression changes that I need to make, as well as any level changes as I play through this song.

I like to do my automation from the Edit window because I'm going to draw a lot of that stuff in. So I'm just going to kind of listen through the song to anything that I need to make some volume rides to and then just kind of draw those in as I go. (music playing) I don't need as much of that high chorus guitar in this first chorus.

Save a little bit for the last chorus. (music playing) The lead vocal could probably come up in the choruses there. (music playing) Especially here, you know during that tag he kind of gets a little lost.

(music playing) That right there. Let's listen to that again.

(music playing) It's still sounding a little bit muddy to me. (music playing) They'll give it back, a little bit of that. (music playing) Just a little tighter. Let's hold that down during that second verse.

(music playing) So listen to that here. (music playing) I'm going to do a little ride on that, because that could add a little bit of drama to that moment.

(music playing) I like that. Background's kind of loud there. (music playing) Let's make sure this one cuts through, since it's the only one. (music playing) What I'm actually going to do is automate the pan on that section, just because it's just kind of coming out of left field there.

You see that here too. (music playing) Cool! I like that. Let's check this section. (music playing) Let's kick up those background vocals towards the end. (music playing) I really want to hear it there. I'm going to back down.

(music playing) I don't need as many background vocals in that pre-chorus.

Again, what I'm trying to do by kind of tucking things out and maybe even completely getting rid of things in certain sections is I want to save something for the end of the song. I don't want to get to the second chorus and have nowhere left to go. And so you heard there with that high chorus guitar, that's kind of a big moment. I don't want to get ride of it completely, but I do want to save a little bit of that largeness for the last chorus. And we do have these two guitars that kick in there. (music playing) What I want to do here in this last verse is add a little bit more effects to the vocal, to just kind of make him sound cooler towards the end. Let's kick up that delay and see what that sounds like.

(music playing) A little more chorus. (music playing) Make sure we can actually hear that. And I don't like that last breath, so I want to make sure I am turning that down.

Anytime I automate up the effects, I want to make sure that--and there are little moments that the music cuts out, I want to use those. (music playing) That's a little bit better. Now, as I'm adjusting some of this automation, I might think about bringing up that drum squash track in these choruses, maybe even bringing up that snare. I am going to use my grid to my advantage here, just kind of make quick selections so that I can use my Trimmer tool just to kick things up a DB here and there.

We'll keep that kind of up through the last part of the song. And another thing that I want to think about is any plug-ins that maybe I want to automate. So I know on my bass guitar I kind of have this growl. (music playing) I want that to really cut through there. I want to bring up some of that growl during the choruses.

I am going to enable that parameter. And this is where it really gets creative, and this is where you could really just spend hours. Sometimes I'll spend hours trying to figure out ways that I could just make the mix more interesting at different parts, different moments, kind of pushing the energy, pulling the energy, guiding the listener through the song. Let's take a listen to that in the mix. (music playing) I don't want to forget the intro.

I want to make sure that we've got the power in that intro, because that is all in. So I want to make sure that also with our drums we've got that nice power on the squash track. (music playing) Or even bring up the drums. (music playing) So when I'm using my grid, it really just makes this automation fast, and kind of let it ride up there.

(music playing) Let's listen to that. (music playing) Maybe ride that. (music playing) Now as I'm listening here, I'm feeling in the bigger sections, you know the reverb that I've got rocking on my snare might be a little too much, what I've got going on my drum room.

I just want to make sure that I am doing right by these. I want to check those toms, too, not hearing those as much as I'd like. (music playing) Now, I'm kind of getting towards the end of my mix, maybe I'm getting a little bit lazy, so, let's see what these guys do, kind of an all-in-one drum solution. Pull up a tom setting, see how that guy sounds. I am totally not above using stuff that sounds good--oops! Let's pull those back down, get that group going.

Using stuff that sounds good, if it's quick and gets me where I want to go. (music playing) Yeah, that sounds pretty good. A little too much low end. I want a little more bite. (music playing) More reverb. (music playing) Yeah, there we go. (music playing) During this process, I want to make sure I am not clipping my mix bus, not being too aggressive there.

(music playing) And like I said, that reverb is kind of bothering me a little bit, and I think where it is, I think it's just a little too long. So I am going to that TrueVerb, I'm just going to tuck in the decay time a bit and just kind take the size down a bit, see if I can (music playing) tighten that up.

That snare is getting a little lost in the chorus, so maybe I'll take that snare replace and either kick it up in the chorus. Maybe I just want to add a little top end to it. I just want to get a little more brightness out of it. (music playing) I don't want to clip.

(music playing) The guitar was a little loud for me. (music playing) A little more point to my kicks.

(music playing) Check my bus compressor, make sure it's not doing too much compression. (music playing) This guy too. (music playing) And when in doubt, what I'm going to do is I am going to kind of check against a reference mix or something like my phase scope and just see, am I really out of control with my levels? (music playing) Not bad. I'm not crushing it.

Probably lighten it up a bit. (music playing) Now, if I had more time, I might start thinking about adding delays to specific words, or maybe I'd think about doing a different sound in the bridge, so I am might think about, could I do something where I brought up either the effects track or I had a completely separate track. So I would be duplicating this without the active playlist there and maybe copying down this part and then treating it with something like, these effects here, in a different way, in kind of a radical way.

(music playing) And then maybe turn down the lead at that part so that it takes over. (music playing) Put a little limiting on there, keep it nice and intact.

(music playing) I think, you know what? I really like that last word without the effect. So I just want him to say, "I don't want to be like this," back in his clean voice, like this. (music playing) I'm going to add a little fade there and fade that out a little bit, just a little bit more graceful. (music playing) I still feel like my compression, maybe on the mix bus, is a little too aggressive.

(music playing) I'm going to try something a little different here, maybe something a little bit cleaner. I'll actually save what I'm doing there, just bypass it, and see if I bring in the C4, see if I can get a little sheen on the top end here. I'll pull up one of these mastering presets.

And the multi-band compressor is going to react differently to each band, so it's not just a single band reacting to all the frequencies equally. Pull the threshold up. (music playing) So I'm kind of clipping that. I want to bring that down a bit, still clipping that. (music playing) With a little bit of firming, a little bit of make-up again. I don't want to flatten the mix.

I'm actually going to the set the range to just a dB on each of these, a little bit more in the top end for those splashy cymbals. (music playing) Let's get a little bit of fill. (music playing) And as I am listening to that first verse, what I'm hearing is that the additional sample snare is just--it's really killing it and that's great in the choruses, just not so much in that first verse. And so what I might opt to do is just pull it down just a little bit.

But we want it to go into that chorus. Let's take a listen. (music playing) Yeah, get some of that warmth back in there. (music playing) Now again, I'm working on headphones, so my final decisions regarding reverb, ambience, delay, things like that, I'm definitely going to want to make those on speakers or at least check my mix on speakers.

What happens if you're mixing on headphones is you might tend to make things too wet, because you can't hear them in the context of an actual space, which is going to add additional reverb. It's very rare that the end listener is going to listen to music in an anechoic chamber with no reflections. Now, many listeners will listen on headphones. That's great! You've got that taken care of. But a lot of listeners are going to listen in their living room, which is basically drywall on the walls and nothing much else, so you are going to get a lot of reflections there.

So want to make sure you check your mix on speakers for both the low end--make sure you got your bass and your kick right--as well as any of the ambience, any of the reverb and delay. So at this point, I think is a good place to stop with this mix, let our ears rest. We are going to want to go and check this in a few different environments. Maybe we're hitting the mark, maybe we're missing the mark, and at that point I'm going to take some notes, listen to as many systems as I can, and then come back to the mix with a fresh set of ears and implement those changes.

But hopefully in this process you've kind of got the chance to get in my head a little as I'm working through, as I'm troubleshooting different parts of the mix, so that you can think more like a mixer. Because at the end of the day, following exactly what I did might not be the best plan, and you can see, even throughout this process, I've been changing my mind almost every five or ten minutes as I hear new things. New things inspire me. My attention might be drawn to a new problem.

So it's important to understand that mixing is a very iterative process. There's no one way, there's no one roadmap, and no one set of plug-ins that you can use. It's going to be different for every song, every set of instruments, and if I come back tomorrow and mix this song, it's probably going to sound entirely different. So keep that in mind.

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