Where do I start when mixing?!

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by funkbomb, Dec 18, 2004.

  1. funkbomb

    funkbomb Guest

    I just finished a recording of my band, and it's 24 tracks of drums and overlapping guitars. What do I do first?!

    Do I normalize all of the tracks first? Then do I adjust levels? Then do I tweak EQ? Or do I compress/expand/limit/whatever first?

    Uggh, I've always sort of just "wung it" (past tense of wing it) when mixing, but I'd like to know what to really do first that won't limit my options as I go, if you know what I mean.

    Most of the time I do so much crud to all of my music that it gets muddy and I wish I could hit a reset button and start all over.
  2. inLoco

    inLoco Active Member

    Jul 25, 2004
    i like to start with kick and bass and have the lead vocal present so i mix in order of the feel i want for the vocal...
    normalizing or compressing first will ruin the mix...
  3. johnwy

    johnwy Well-Known Member

    Jan 6, 2003
    Smithtown, NY
    Home Page:
    Starting with the kick and bass is a good way to start to build a foundation. Some guys 'n gals like to solo each instrument and get the best possible sound for each instrument before working on the balance. One approach I like to use is to get a rough mix of the song first without any eq, compression, or effects. Bassically a bone dry mix so that I can get a feel for the direction of the song, then I'll start to tweek the sounds based on what I'm hearing .

    As far as things like normalising, I would avoid it, and will use it if it is absolutely necessary. Lately the only thing I have been normalizing are 2 track mixes for A&R reps and artists who usually complain that it wasn't loud enough in their Escalades or Navigators!
  4. EricK

    EricK Guest

    I would recommend against solo-ing each instrument and making it sound it best. A soloed instrument that sound great isn't always what the mix needs. Often times, on a great mix, the soloed track might not sound that great, but it sounds great in the mix. I would recommend that you you follow johnwy's second suggestion of getting a rough mix with no eq, compression, or FX and then take it from there. That is basically how I approach my mixes.
  5. Screws

    Screws Active Member

    Feb 16, 2001
    Home Page:
    There's no right way or wrong way, only the way that works for you, and even that will morph over time.

    I used to start with drums, getting a decent sound and then adding bass, vocal, guitars and keys, finally bgvs.

    i now put up all the tracks, getting a decent balance using only volumes and pans. Then I go for compressors to even out the places where stuff disappears. Next is eq and compressors for tonal purposes. Last is fx.

    Constant re-tweaking of previous elements is necessary, since compression or eq or fx will affect levels and so forth.
  6. funkbomb

    funkbomb Guest

    Before I read your posts I already thought of just making it without any levels, eqs, or effects, and this what i got:


    I think it's beginning to sound ok, but the thing is, I normalized each track individually to bring it up to workable levels.

    Why is this bad? Am I understanding correctly what normalizing does?
  7. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2003
    For my money I can't see why normalizing is a bad thing - the point is you shouldn't *have* to do it.

    All of your mic'd tracks (and please somebody correct me if I am wrong here, I am trying to help) should be recorded as close to -3db peaks as possible to keep your signal-to-noise the best it can be.

    So technically, if you've done that, then normalize, nothing happens. Workable levels is something you should achieve at tracking.

    I think if you're struggling this hard, you may be doing things wrong before you record. Your basic recording should be good. Your mix should make it GREAT. With no bigger adjustments than a couple obvious shelves and some +/- 1-2dB adjustments to the EQ.

    How are you doing all this? Do you have time to use your ears on each instrument and get it sounding its best before you track it? If so, do so.

    If not, these are some tiny and very simplistic tips - RO guys forgive me for oversimplifying in this way but its what the guy wants to hear.

    Send your drum tracks to a group channel.
    Solo all drums, and get the kick & snare the way you like them (compress the snare and brighten, cut the kick around 220hz and boost around 80 - only by 3dB or so - low pass the kick, and compress it to taste)
    Pan your OHs, and then slowly bring your toms / hat / other mics into play till you are happy.
    Then bounce them to another track. Compress the hell out of it and put it at about 10-20% of the volume of the group track.
    Bring in your bass, boost slightly at 220hz and low shelf it up a tad, drop the top end out. You want subtle power here. Compress your bass at about 2:1, attack speed to suit the song.

    Pick a reverb that suits the drum track. Length should be no longer than 1 beat. You may want a different reverb for the snare.

    The rest of your tracks can now be brought in as you want.

    Take a high-pass filter to most all of them to leave the low end rhythm as you've done it. Use panning, and rather than boost volume, play with subtle EQ boosts to the mid and high-ranges, and panning so you've got them sitting in your soundstage and filling out your mix.

    Compress everything a little bit, no more than 3-6dB of reduction.

    Bring in 'verb to suit on them without muddying your mix.

    Then solo your vocal. Pick a compression, EQ (high-pass, slight boost at 14kHZ or so for "air") and 'verb that suits the vocal.

    Bring it into the mix. Ensure it sits so it sounds a tad too high at low volume, and a tad too low at very high volume.

    Then work backwards through the sounds till you hit the kick drum and you're satisfied.

    Put it on a CD, ensuring master volume peaks about -3dB, and listen to it on your car stereo, home stereo, DVD player, computer, etc. and take notes until you find a compromise for all systems.

    I hope I haven't trod on too many toes here and respect to those whose tips sit above.

    All the best,

  8. funkbomb

    funkbomb Guest

    Thank you so much! This is exactly what I want to hear--just a general layout of things to do, a sort of checklist, to get a good mix.

    Yes, I think my mix sounds decent without too much, but the biggest drawback I have is that I own a Delta 1010, an 8-input analog-to-digital thing that does not have built-in pres, so I am stuck with the dynamic mics pumping whatever they can into it. Obviously I should have a preamp but at this point it is out of my budget. The whole reason the delta 1010 doesnt have preamps is to keep it as noiseless as possible, and it is, because when i normalize these tracks to about 95% the silent parts are indeed silent. The only un-amped mics I use are the kick mic (D112) two SM57's on snare and one on toms.

    I think I had always done that, however I had never paused and thought out my mixes and always jumped to saying to myself "that in particular doesn't sound good" and changing it without respect to the other tracks in the mix.

    I've done this, but then when I return it to the mix it sounds muddy and horrible and doesn't fit in at all. I like to adjust them with the rest of the mix so I know what I need to do to get them to stand out with the rest.
  9. anonymous

    anonymous Guests

    Feb 10, 2001

    FWIW... the best "mixers" I know generally bring up the song in a rough mix/balance kinda way, listen to it a couple of times and get acquainted with the song... seeing as you recorded it, you may actually need to step back and become a bit more objective about the song... what the song is trying to say as a whole and not as a "collection of individual tracks".

    Forget what you played on, forget that the other guitar player is [expletive deleted] your sister... mix the record, not the people.

    Treat each song like an individual... don't have "one setup for drums", etc. Start from the beginning with no pre-conceptions... each song is someone new you're meeting for the first time. Like women, each song will want something different, and like women... they won't come right out and tell you with words what they want... you have to listen past the front to what the song is really trying to say.

    If you try to muscle the song around it will resist... if you try to push it in a direction, it might like it, it might not... listen to the song.

    FWIW, the way I generally try to proceed with mixes is to first listen to the tracks in context then get the rythm section to really set the groove [try to determine if it's a "[expletive deleted] beat" or a "[expletive deleted] groove"... or a "sittin' back/ethereal" try to find the "flow" of the song really sits (think Floyd/Radiohead), etc.]... once you have "the groove" basically sitting where you think it wants to be... try to work in the vocals so the song can pretty much stand on bass, drums and vocals.

    I have found that delays will work absolute magic to get the vocals to set into the groove a bit better... sometimes a delay on the bass will work or with a DAW, sometimes pulling the bass ahead by a blonde hair will often get the groove to jump alive... listen to the song, it'll tell ya where it wants to be.

    Now, start to focus on the "key" instruments between the vocals and the rythm section. Not everything that was played for the recording needs to be in the final presentation.

    Lemme mention that again, it's a biggie!! Not everything that was played for the recording needs to be in the final presentation.

    The vocals are what is going to put food on the table... make them special, make them fit the mood and vibe of the song and the mood and vibe of the band. Find something about the presentation of each song that gives it a personality that is somewhat unique to that song... besides the lyrics and "the hook". Break your balls to make the audio support the musical statement.

    so... figure out the final arrangement of the other instruments as they apply to the vocals [my basic rule of thumb is that there is only 1 "attention grabbing" event per beat (you'll often be surprised at how difficult that is to accomplish!!)]... and almost all of the time it's going to be vocals, or a little fill between the vocals, or a solo, or some kind of rythmic event that takes the chorus or solo or whatever to a new energy/height...

    Most of all... keep at it.

    There are some songs I've mixed 25-30 times and still haven't really gotten everything out of them that there was to pull from them [then again, I pretty much hate everything I do for what seems to be about the first 5 years since I did it].

    Take your time, experiment, don't follow formulas, breathe, have fun, rip your hair out from the frustration, be the song.


    Edited by administration for inappropriate content
  10. MrPhil

    MrPhil Guest

    normalizing won't destroy anything that your ear will notice.
    Just make sure you normalize stereo tracks as stereo, not L and R separately. And if the track is not too low, you don't need to normalize it.

    How many tracks was there for drums you said?
    Listened to your mix, and what troubled me was the snare, and the volume differences of some guitars that goes up and down.
    IS there any bass? I'm on a PC with lofi comp speakers...
  11. inLoco

    inLoco Active Member

    Jul 25, 2004
    phil when i say ruin is that i don't think is a good start... compression is a very difficult subject and can kill the dynamics that's why i like to use it later on...
  12. MrPhil

    MrPhil Guest

    I was talking normalizing, not compression.
    Compression should be used moderately and with ability to "roll back" to un-processed if you don't like the result later on.
  13. inLoco

    inLoco Active Member

    Jul 25, 2004
    normalizing is like compression but inverted so you'll be distorting the signal... if you normalize something that has it's peak 80% to 100% you're raising it 20%! the result is distortion... that's why it's better to record at highest volume possible...

    also fletcher isn't that suportive of normalizing... i'm not also specially at the beggining...
  14. boheme6

    boheme6 Guest

    Not bad advice in general.. but sometimes that's what you're looking for.. consistency between songs.

    Imagine if they'd pulled down the mics on that Motown kit.
  15. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2003
    Sounds like you need a set of mic preamps - dynamic mics straight into the 10/10 will really not give a signal-to-noise ratio that is workable.

    If you want quality, Kurt advises Sebatron or the JMPs, plenty links here.

    If you just want to get started, a Mackie desk, Allen & Heath desk, or cheaper, second-hand, should give you a set of 4 preamps or so you can work with,

  16. David French

    David French Well-Known Member

    Jun 19, 2002
    Yes, you really must get a good preamp.
  17. funkbomb

    funkbomb Guest

    doesn't normalizing just amplify the signal to just below peak?
  18. EricK

    EricK Guest

    Yes, it just raises the level of the entire signal. Normalization will find the highest peak in the file. It will then determine how far down that signal is from full scale. For example, if the highest peak is -10dbfs, it will apply 10db of gain to the signal. Depending on the application that you are using, you may be able to set a level to normalize to, -0.3dbfs for example.

    I would not describe normalization as reverse compression.
  19. johnwy

    johnwy Well-Known Member

    Jan 6, 2003
    Smithtown, NY
    Home Page:
    Don't forget you are also normalizing the noise floor of the recording as well as adding in some distortion. Here is an article on the web fer some extra reading:


    Eventhough its an article in dither there is a small paragraph on normalizing. If you go between a quarter to third of the way to the section titled "When do we need dither?", there is a paragraph that starts "The process of normalizing..."

    Some really good stuff on this page..
  20. funkbomb

    funkbomb Guest

    So by normalizing, I'm raising the noise floor along with the sound...

    I assumed that from the beginning--why wouldn't it? It's just a controlled amount of amplification. My question is, why is it such a big deal to do it? Yes, if you have a certain undesirable ambient noise or a hum in the system you wouldnt want to amplify it. But I'm lucky enough to record in an environment that suffers only from reverb and echo from a poor acoustic achitectual design.

    Other than bringing the noise floor up with the sound, is there any other disadvantage of normalizing?

    And how is the signal being distorted if I normalize it? Isn't that only associated with hard limiting?
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