I’ve just completed a new track entitled “Metropolis”, although it could easily have been called “The Never Ending Mix”, as it was a right, royal pain in the arse to get it finished. Time and again, I would set up another mix & think “yeah… it’s OK, but that drum fill coming out of the 2nd chorus needs to be longer…” or something like that. Anyway I persevered and finally got it sounding the way I heard it in my head, so I thought I’d share with you how I put a mix together.
Before we begin, let’s just get a couple of terms out of the way…
If you’re not familiar with using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) or mixing desk a “track” is the individual channel that a performance is recorded onto. You can control the volume, EQ & effects of the take you record onto this track using the controls assigned to it. A “bus” is like a track, but you don’t record onto it – a bus is essentially a track that you feed other tracks into so you can manage a group of them with a single set of controls. The “Master Bus” is exactly what it sounds like – the bus that all of the tracks in the tune eventually end up going through to produce your final mix. Now, let’s take a look at how I mixed “Metropolis”…
First of all, let’s begin with the bass – all I do to this is add a little compression. You can see the settings here in this screen shot of the preset I use in Cakewalk Music Creator.
Next, I plumb this track straight into the Master Bus.
For everything else in the track… drums, rhythm guitars, piano & lead guitar, I tend always to use the same reverb setting (you don’t really want a reverb-y bass sound as it will lose definition). Using a common reverb to all the instruments gives the subliminal impression that they are all in the same room & helps to reinforce the “band” sound that I’m going for. To this end, I put the outputs of all these instruments into a separate bus called “All But Bass” & place my reverb on this bus. Here is the preset I use:
The output of this bus is then fed directly into the Master Bus.
For the rhythm guitars, I tend to always double track these – play the same part twice on separate tracks & pan these hard left & right. This gives a much bigger sound. Don’t be lazy about it & think you can just copy/paste from one track onto another though… all this will do is give you a louder, centred version of the part. It’s the minute differences between the two takes that give the big sound you’re looking for when they are panned to opposite sides of the stereo picture.
On this tune I ended up doing a total of six rhythm guitar tracks:
- Left & right clean strummed chords
- Left & right clean strummed chords with tremolo effect
- Left & right power chords
Each left/right pair of rhythm guitar tracks was sent to it’s own bus, so I could control the volume of each left/right pair with a single fader. The output of each bus was then sent to the All But Bass bus where it would get a coating of reverb & from there it goes into the master bus.
The lead guitar track, like all the others was fed into the All But Bass bus, but before it goes there, I always tend to add a little delay. Once again here are my settings:
This way the lead guitar ends up with a little delay echo as well as the reverb it gains on it’s way through the All But Bass bus.
Finally we come to the Master Bus itself. Cakewalk Music Creator has a wonderful analogue tape simulator effect which really warms up the sound of the whole mix. Here is the preset I use on this effect:
And lastly I always add a subtle touch of compression to the overall mix on the Master Bus & here are the settings for that.
I’ll round off by letting you hear the difference that some of these effects make. For the reverb check out these two examples using the drums:
And here’s how the compression solidifies the bass sound:
Let’s take a look at how that double tracking trick widens up the sound of a rhythm guitar part:
The lead guitar…
The final mix…
And finally, the whole track as it ended up sounding using the methodology described, as well as a “wash” through the LANDR online mastering service…
Until next time…