Before I start most of my mixdowns or at least the mixes that are dance floor oriented, I have three basic routines I have put into practice. I Insert a compressor on the master channel, decide which elements are the most important for the track and make sure all unnecessary frequencies are removed from my mix. I’ve explained in further detail about these three below.
Mixing to a Compressor:
A compressor is essentially what “glues” the track together in the end and it’s safe to say, we all use them at some point in our tracks. So let’s say you have a nicely balanced mix, you’ve applied some eq, compression, space FX etc to all your individual source tracks and you’ve even bussed all your sections to their own dedicated group channels. Now what? Well the next step would be to start adding some master channel FX. So you start by reaching for a compressor, tweak a few parameters and suddenly your mix sounds a little wired. All of a sudden you can’t seem to get everything to work with the compressor so you start adjusting your kick which leads to an adjustment on your bass track and before you know it you’ve lost the entire balance of your mixdown and have to start again.
Well I can start by saying, this isn’t the compressor’s fault at all, and it could be an indication that there was something wrong with the mix to begin with. Maybe the kick drum is too loud or there might be some unwanted mud in the low end causing the compressor to work extra hard. Whatever the case may be, if you start by inserting a compressor on the master before you get a balance, you’re able to make all the important desicisions based on the way the compressor reacts to your mix beforehand.
Here’s a screen shot of the basic master compression settings that work for me using Ableton’s compressor but feel free to experiment to find your own taste. Remember, there are NO RULES!
Every style of music has its most prominent elements that drive the track home. In dance music it’s your kick and bass line. In Pop or Urban genres it’s the vocal. Before starting a mix, it’s a good idea to listen to the rough mix first and find out which elements are the most important so that they stand out when the mix is finished. Let’s say I’m mixing a big room house banger with big epic chords, a dirty bass line and a hard hitting kick drum. Those three elements would be where I start. Once I get those three elements working nicely together, mixing everything else around those three parts is usually a breeze.
Low cut Filters:
The kick and bass are the only two elements in the mix that need to sit in the lower register. Getting these two elements to work well together can be a nightmare at times but there is something you can do to help make the process much more pleasant. It’s important to note that the human ear won’t hear anything passed 20 Hz in fact, anything below 60 Hz we tend to feel more then hear. With that said, I always like to tighten up my kick and bass by cutting certain frequencies from these two elements first. For example, I cut everything below 40 Hz on my kick to “tighten” it up and get rid of any “mud” and with the bass, I sometimes cut everything below 55 Hz.
But what about everything else in the mix like Percussion, vocals, pads, leads, loops etc. Some of these types of elements might have low frequencies that could be cluttering up the mix and making it harder for the kick and bass to do their thing. Best solution is to just cut the lows out of virtually everything else leaving enough room for the actual low end energy to breath. I tend to cut below 100 Hz and upward depending on the source itself. But you have to be careful because you don’t want your mix to sound too “thin” either.