Join Dave Darlington for an in-depth discussion in this video Pumping up the rhythm, part of Mixing an EDM Track.
So as any DJ, or producer knows, the sounds of the low end in the rhythm section are really, what makes people excited about your record. So we really need to focus in on, the kick, and bass. Let's hear them in solo. So he's got a choice of kick that's got some really, pretty much all the right elements to me. He's got that eight-o-eight. But he's gotta nice attack tab, so that's probably already a blend of a couple of different things. So I start by setting the kick somewhere where I can see that the master fader is not going to clip. Might get a little more, because this is going to set our overall volume for the whole track.
So I've still got five dbs of head room which I can easily make up with my mastering plugins. And so that'll be our ground zero so to speak. We'll put up the rest of the elements in proportion to that. Okay, this needs a little treatment. He's using it as a fill but I might filter out some of that super low from there because it's not so necessary and it's getting in the way of our kick and I might look for a little bit of where that smack is.
You see this red indicator is because I've boosted a frequency. We're hitting the plugin a little too hot. What that means in the physics of it is that it's doing mathematical calculations of the sample to create this but there's no numbers in that calculation. It's hit zero. So, you're basically knocking your head against the ceiling of zero and therefore you're clipping things that would normally be beyond zero if they could be calculated. But they can't. And so you don't want to clip. And then, in a real world terms, it's just an ugly sound.
That's the bottom line. Now you can see, this might not be very interesting, but you can see that he's a good producer. So, if I put what I think are good levels, they're almost the same because he's bounced the tracks as best as he can to get them to me, so I have less work to do. Okay, let's go to the claps. You can already see that are vocal keys working pretty good because she sounds nice nothing but a clap. Okay, that's got reverb on it already so we don't really need to do anything. We might get a little excitement from the clap like squashing it.
This is the danger of overuse here, in that everybody hears about compression. Well what if I compress everything? I'm not a believer of compressing everything. I'm only compressing things that I think might benefit from the sound of it. Let's go back to the claps. I don't know if you can hear that well but you do get a little more impact and a little more tail on the reverb with just a little bit of compression, and of course the compression will hold it into place, like, I think of it as like, staying in your lane, the claps will stay in their lane.
And the music, and the last element of the drums is the tom. Okay, so this, that's pretty dry and boring, right? Let's copy our compressor, no, it can't. Okay, the reason that happens because this is a stereo, the claps were stereo because they had verb, and this is mono, so it told me that, you know, can't copy, because it's a mono. Some of these DAWs are very good at keeping you humble. So, another point I always like to make to people who are asking me, what I do, I go to the presets.
Why not? Let's have a good starting place. So, you see we're attenuating about three, so I'm going to add about three, but I don't want to clip. Which is that. And we can bus it to the room that we have set. So, that rooms maybe a little top end-y. Most reverb plug-ins have hear how it gets darker, obviously, but I think that little bit of ambiance will help it fit better with the other stuff.
So, you just saw me bring down the amount when I listened to the whole kit. So and when I'm working on the sound, I'm exaggerating so that I can really hear what I'm doing. But then, I reigned it back in to be subtle. But all the work that I did in shaping the reverb and the tone and everything just makes it that much better within the mix. The sound itself is clearer and cleaner. Okay, and then we have a ride cymbal. I could probably benefit from a little of our scene room, and I'm using my option drag obsends so I might not send the same amount but at least I have the same, there, they're ready.
Okay, so we've got our drums going. Before I get into the effects, which I don't consider the effects as crucial. To the mix, although of course all EDM mixers have them, and it's part of the vocabulary, let's say, of the EDM. They're certainly not the most effective thing in propelling the music forward. Once you have the drums, the next most important thing is the bass sound. It's a nice clean sound, and it's obviously a sequencer with a little delay on it. I'm thinking that I might inline add a little shadow just to give it some depth, probably a sixteenth.
So in this case since I'm inline if I put the mix to zero, we're not hearing anything. If I stop, you can hear that on the side a little bit and it might filter down. I'm going to experiment a little bit to see if some ideas of mine will enhance it. In this case, I'm thinking about R base which is a synthesis of low end frequencies. And I exaggerate it. Hear that sweeping up and down. That's a little too high. And that's a little too low. So it's, a core root frequency is there, so I might just add a little bit of sub to that to give it some bump.
So, now the next thing we need to check is how the bass and kicker are interacting with each other. If you are a good producer you will have put them in different places, and as we listened to the kick before we heard that. Super sub eight-o-eight feeling, and we heard that attack, and now we have the bass kind of in the middle of the low frequency range. So I think he did a good job of choosing sounds that are going to work well together. You can clearly hear the kick in bass and what they're doing, and they're making plenty of energy together. Now in the whole drum kit, this is maybe not so much necessary on this song but on a lot of songs sometimes elements of the drums will really be loud just for a second.
So I might throw a compressor across the whole drum kit. I'll put the output of the volume at zero, and then I'll use the ratio and attack release controls and the threshold control to just tickle the drums a little bit. That's too much. Maybe something like that. So the point that I'm trying to make here is that all along the way I'm doing a little bit of compression at each stage as opposed to a lot of compression on one particular stage. Because I'm going to master in a minute.
There's going to be a compressor on the master and a limiter. So we're going to squash, and we're going to get that loud EDM volume. But we're not doing it all in one place. We're doing little elements of it one by one. He called this a bass pad so I can see in the arrangement that at the breakdown here it's taking over and then later on in the song they're both going to play. So we have to make sure that they're not going to get in each other's way. Let's hear what that is first of all. Okay, that's a sample of a bass guitar. Guitar, like maybe from trilogy, or something like that. So this will be a good time, since it's actually a guitar, let's load up the bass amp.
And so this super dark Motown thing is probably a little too dark for him. But I might do that. Maybe not so much treble but. Then the amp will also help compress the sound because of the natural ballistics of an amplifier. But I do hear a difference in those volumes, so I'm sure within EDM music, he wants that part to really sing through. So let's maybe compress it a little bit. Like I was saying on the vocal, I like to start with no comp unity so I can really know what I'm doing. I'm going to turn off the hum.
You can see at the loudest note, I was only compressing 2 dB. That's a little bit of a stylistic thing for me. I don't like to really hit them too hard although some engineers do and to great effect. It's just a style. Another point that just came to my mind is I'm setting these levels rather arbitrarily as we go, but I'm building up. From the foundation and you can always go back and tweak and refine in fact after the mix is all the way up I often go back and mute families or certain elements and make sure that I've got the best level that I possibly can. The last element of our rhythm gang is all these effects, I'm going to group them temporarily because I'm seeing that my level to the masters is somewhere around here minus two-ish. For now we'll leave them all panned in the middle, and these effects can get very loud. I'm sure you DJs who have the sample packs have run into this where you have a great sound but it just gets way loud in the wrong way. So I put a limiter across the whole family. Tak it down a little bit less than zero. And then while it's playing, I might watch this, but this way, we're never going to really crush the bus, it's always going to have a limit on how loud it can get. As if to demonstrate my point, the first bar that I played had stuff that would have really been going crazy on the speakers, but that limiter held it in. Here's a quick trick that you can do to those kind of static things, I'm going to insert Mondo Mod in stereo, in line. I don't want the volume to change and I don't want the pitch to change. But I might want the panel to change. Okay, so you hear that moving across the field, I don't want to be on center. I'm going to increase the range of it so it goes way to each side. But I'm going to decrease the mix, this way some of the original sound will just be up the middle where I have it but there'll be an element of the sound controlled by this amount that goes across the stereo field. And gives us a feeling of width and space without really taking up too much room in our track. So we could listen down. Sometimes when I'm when I really have enough time to be luxurious, I would listen down to the whole song in this mode. Just to make sure all the elements of the rhythm came and went as I expected. And then I would listen one more time with our star.
Where is she? Hm, she's finished already. Here we go. Okay what that was right there was after I set my rhythm track to hit the master properly, my initial vocal stuff was a little bit too low so there's a couple of ways I could go about fixing that as you saw I was raising the individual faders and then I realized that I had to raise them so much that it probably was a combination that I needed to do. So I'm going to lower them back down to zero and then I'm going to watch the compressor. Yeah. Okay, so that's good. Now if I still feel I need volume from them, I can get it at the end of the vocal tributary here. I have a gain control there. I also have a gain on that fader, although I try to keep it at zero unless I really need to boost it up. Another great think about the sub faders, not only are you able to treat the whole family with effects and inserts, but you can also take the whole gain of a section and raise it or lower it just that particular family. So, we'll see as the music progresses whether we need to grab the chorus at a certain point and raise it or, or not. But you have a volume control here on all these tributaries. So I can control my volume there, and I have my master vocals. It is a lot of ways you can quickly grab and make adjustments on the fly. But you want, you have three stars in EDM. You have your kick, you have your bass, and you have your vocal, which is your song. Nobody is going to sign your record because of your kick drum track. They're going to sign your record because of the singer and the song. But of course because you're competing with these world class guys, you have to have killer bass and kick. I'm not down playing the importance of the kick and bass, we all know that we need to spend a lot of time on that, but really concentrate on your singer. Now you can see that I've clipped the master by doing that. So we're a little hot in general. We want to always be aware of that early on, so you don't get to the end of your mix and you're really, really hot. And then you have to start bringing things down, and it doesn't sound so great anymore. So, what I might do in that case is put the All button on, bring all the music down, and the vocals together, and then just reassess my levels. So that sounded pretty good to me. I think it's time to move on.
This course features the song "Someone," by Cato Anaya, with vocals by Natalie Bautista. Connect with Cato on Twitter or download the full track on the iTunes Store.