In this tutorial on beginning a mix, Brian Malouf describes the “housekeeping” best practices he’s developed over 11 years of working exclusively in the digital audio workstation domain. He discusses the array of necessary folders and templates that are a part of this "filing cabinet," and the system he employs to assure maximum flexibility and organization, and explains why this is so important to the creative process.
- [Voiceover] Well, there's no place better than the very very beginning to begin a mix and I want to show you the system where it all stems from. I want to give a little credit to my trusty engineers from Sony Music Studios in New York who when I moved out to Los Angeles gave me this system and I've been using it ever since. And will always use it because the muscle memory or a filing cabinet, of an organizational chart, if you will, is so valuable to free your mind to be creative with the music.
You want all the housekeeping taken care of for you in a sense because it's so familiar. So here we are at the very beginning. I have my arrow on a folder on the desktop called Templates. Now, what I normally do is I change that title to a number and a song title that then goes into the Artist folder that I've created. So that when I add songs to that Artist folder thinking that they'll be more than just the one they're sequential and they're organized.
So I would take this folder now and drop it into the artist Max Liberty, whose music we'll be using for this course. Not exclusively, but for the most part. And from there I will continue working. Why don't we just close this for a moment. And this is what that folder contains. Let's go one by one. Audio Files is where Pro Tools stores the files you make from the session.
That's created for you. The CD Reference folder is something I made. Actually Mike and Pablo made it. Mike Peters and Pablo Arya. And it's where I place CD reference quality files from the mix that I export. Now, following that are four tracking templates which we don't need when we mix. But this folder for me is what I would use for every project I do and sometimes when I'm producing I start from scratch. But for now let's delete these and we'll move on.
This folder is something I made. Master Mixes & Stems is where I export the final mixes and their counterparts like TV Mix, Instrumental Mix, A Capella Mix. And also the stems that I make of the individual music groups; drums, bass, guitars, vocals and so on. We'll talk a lot later about how to make all of those groups discreet. Here's where those mastering files go and actually here in this folder, the subfolder, is where I would put the TV and Instrumental mixes.
This is good organization for delivery so you don't get confused about what you've given to the label when you're done. This Mastering Comparison folder is something I made. It's what I use to listen to reference mixes that I might get from the client. I do some mastering myself, so there's some other templates that we can delete for this course. Melodyne is a folder that Celemony makes to store their files when you've rendered something in Melodyne. MIDI is a folder I made to store files I create in Melodyne that have gone from analog or from audio to MIDI.
Very useful tool that that software provides. Original Session is a folder I made where I place the contents of the original material given to me by the client. So they might send rendered audio files from Logic or they might send a Pro Tools file that was a session from their very last rough mix. Pictures is a folder I made where I place screenshots I take of that original Pro Tools session for instance so that I can recall what plugins were used to make sounds that I might want to recreate.
Plug In Settings is a folder that AVID makes and that's self-explanatory. Session File Backups, another AVID folder that comes automatically. Session History is a folder I made where I put the older sessions. So I start with the session name. For instance, the song title plus the suffix CJ1 and by the time I get to 10 or 11 there's too many to look at so I start stashing them in this Session History folder. I always keep every session I make. You never know when you have to go back.
Now here are the mix templates. And there's four of them but they're identical. They just have different sample rates. And once I realize what the sample rate of the original session is I delete the other three. So in this case we're going to be using 48k sessions so I delete the other three. But even after I rename this template I keep it to remind me of what the original sample rate was when I open it a year from now and I can't remember. This is another template I use for my own video series back home, and we'll delete that.
So you saw where we started with this folder and now basically this is where it ends up. Now everybody does things differently and you might have a system you like already. But for those of you who haven't created their own system of organization in file cabinetry as I like to call it, you might want to try starting this way and find if it works for you. If it does I think you're off to a great start. So many times I've heard that producers and song writers who, you know, they just hate to mix. One of the reasons they hate to mix is because they don't know where to begin.
Which is why I think it's so important to begin from the same spot every time. And that there's never any deviation from that. Because once you start deviating from your routine it throws you off your game. So this is why I want to start with this folder. This file cabinet and build from here. This is the very beginning of a mix.
Brian starts with the basics of creating a mix template and getting a good raw balance of the instruments in the mix. He then dives deep into signal processing techniques on many types of instruments, including drums, bass, guitar, keys, vocals, percussion, strings, and brass. He'll pick out and treat individual tracks with compression and EQ, add space with reverb and echo, and modulate the sound with flangers and phase shifters. Pro Tools is used throughout the course, but the techniques will work equally well with the DAW of your choice.
- Customizing a mix template
- Understanding the interplay of volume, panning, EQ, and dynamics
- Processing drums
- Processing lead and background vocals
- Gain processing
- Treating the bass guitar and synth guitar
- Placing piano in the mix
- Treating strings and brass