Mastering 

Ideally the band will hire a separate mastering engineer to master their tracks. This is useful as it provides an extra set of fresh ears that can listen objectively. It can be difficult to master a track that you’ve just spend weeks recording and mixing. However, bands often don’t have the budget to hire a separate mastering engineer so I often end up mastering the tracks that I mix, here’s an example of a mastering chain that I used on a recent track.

I started of with Slate Digital’s virtual bus compression rack. This allows you to quickly audition three different style of compressors to see what works best for the track that you are working on. The FG grey is an emulation of an SSL bus compressor and was set to the fastest relates and slowest attack compressing about 1 to 3 dB. This acts to start leveling everything out but the slow attack time preserves the transients from the drums. This compressor also has a high pass sidechain function, which allows you to stop the low end from triggering the compressor. 

The next compressor used was the elysia master compressor, this was set to a pretty slow attack and release and hit lightly at about – 1dB. The purpose of this compressor is to start to add glue to the mix and gels the instruments together. 

The first EQ used was the fabfiter EQ. This EQ gives you a visual aid from the frequency analyser, which can be helpful when sweeping through the frequency band. I used a low cut at 33Hz to get rid of any inaudible rumble, a slight dip at about 400Hz to cut out some muddy frequencies and a boost at 1.5kHz, this cleaned up the sound and added some clarity to the mix. 

 

The maag EQ was used to add half a dB to the high shelf, this adds air to the mix.

Next up was the FG-N EQ, for this I sweeped around the low end untill I heard a boost of energy and punch. I found this at around 120 Hz, by boosting this frequency it also helped glue the kick and the bass guitar together. 

The virtual tape machine can add a really nice character to the mix if used subtly, however, if drove to hard it can really start to ruin your sound. I used the ½” 2 track setting and hit it really lightly. This added subtle tape saturation to the mix.

Finally I used a limiter to raise the overall volume to compete with commercial tracks in the same genre.

Drum Samples 

Drum samples can be a great way to save a bad recording or take a good recording to the next level. However, it can be a tricky subject for some, especially drummers want their drum sound to be purely their drum kit. The amount of drum samples I use really depends on how consistent the drummer is and also on the genre. A lo-fi indie sound isn’t going to benefit from prestien sounding drums, but some heavier genres with walls of distorted guitars need those consistent punchy samples in order to cut through the mix. Here’s a few methods that I have been using to incorporate drum samples into my mixes. 

This first method is something that i’ve been using a lot more recently. The idea is to get drum samples during the same drum recording session. This way you know your sample is going to work and be in tune and in phase with the rest of your drums. I tend to record the samples about half way through the session, this way the drummer is warmed up and will be hitting the drums how they’d hit then during the take, sometimes if you record the samples at the start of the session, before the drummer is warmed up they could end up hitting the drums lighter, resulting in less tone resonating from the drum. I’ll get the drummer to do each drum at about 4 different velocities. During mixing i’ll pick the nicest sounding hit and blend it back into the drums. The point of blending in the same sample is so that it adds extra consistency to the take. It also helps for sections that are suffering from too much bleed, which can limit the amount of processing that you can use. You can process this sample heavier and not worry about killing the dynamics or increasing the bleed, and then just blend it in. To make sure that the sample it completely in phase it’s a good idea to zoom into the wave form and make sure that the sample is completely aligned with the snare take. It’s also worth listening all the way through, while the logic drum replacer is pretty accurate, there can still be a few errors. It only takes a few milliseconds of error to make your sample out of phase. 

It’s easy to forget to take drum samples and sometimes when mixing a track that you have not recorded, they won’t come with any. In this case I tend to use third party samples such as Steven Slate Drums. Once you have loaded up the midi you can go through and audition different samples until you find one that works with the track. One thing to remember is to make sure to tune the samples to match the actual drums. 

Re-amping 

On this post i’m going to be talking about a recent session with hush mosey. We had the whole session designated for re amping bass, which gave us the opportunity to get experimental. 

The attack of the bass was getting lost amongst the wall of distorted guitars on one of the tracks. So we played that bass track through each amp to see if any of them helped it cut through the mix. We ended up driving the bass through a big muff pedal through a small orange guitar amp. This gave a really dirty, unique bass tone that shot straight through the wall of guitars. 

The tone was pretty much there straight from the amp, so for mixing I used an EQ to clean up some nasty resonant frequencies from all the distortion. As this was coming from a small guitar amp, there wasn’t much low end so I used the original DI track for the low and blended in this new track.  

We had some time left at the end so ended up sending a vocal track through the same amp and distortion. It sound real dirty and lo fi, and on its own would never have worked, but we blended it back into the original vocal, which resulted in lots of unique character for the vocal track that we weren’t able to achieve via plug ins.

Vocal Dynamics 

Even vocalists with really good control can be way too dynamic when recording. Controlling the vocals so you can hear each word evenly throughout the song without the sound of any pumping or compression artifacts can be difficult. Heres some methods used on the latest mix that i’m working on. We wanted to vocal to sit in the front of the mix the whole way through so it was important that the dynamics were right.

Using compression first can result in certain parts hitting the compressor too hard, causing a ducking sound. To get the vocals to be as level as possible before the compressor, try volume automation. It is important to use your ears during this part but It can also be helpful to use a meter to make sure that the peaks are relatively even. This process can get quite tedious but it’s worth it! 

Add a super fast compressor with the fastest attack and release settings, hitting it at – 3dB max. This clamps down any peaks that got through the automation. 

Then move on to another 1176 style compressor, this time with fastest release and fairly slow attack, hitting it about – 7dB. The waves CLA blue stripe works well for this, it adds some cool harmonics to the high end. This really starts to sit the vocals at the front of the mix.   

Now you can add an LA2A style compressor, hitting it pretty gently at about – 1 -3 dB this is a slow compressor and added after a fast 1176 can add some nice glue to the vocals. This compressor can also be used on the vocal bus with all the different vocals channels being sent to it.

You could even take this a step further but adding some parallel compression. Send your vocal to a separate bus and slam it through a compressor. The waves CLA 76 works well for this on the fastest release, slowest attack with the all in ration hitting it so the needle stays past 20. Then just blend it in to taste!

Tuning Vocals 

Melodyne is a really useful tool. Whether it’s for slightly cleaning up vocal takes, fixing pitch errors or just recreating different melodies or harmonies. However it’s usually best used subtly, if used to much it can start to sound obvious and make the vocalist start sounding like a robot. Here is an example on how to clean up a vocal take.

Melodyne is usually pretty accurate. However it can still sometimes detect a note wrong. Firstly make sure that all the notes are where they should be. I have found that the most common error is when a vocalist goes between notes on a single word, the software often doesn’t split these notes but detects it as lots of vibrato. If you notice this use the split tool and it should change to the correct note. 

Next step is to snap to the key of the track. Once you have done this listen through and make each part has moved to the right note. At this stage I find it’s best to just use your ear and shift things until it sounds right. The final stage is to increase the pitch centre and drift. How far to take this really depends on the track, some genres call for more perfect sounding vocals than others. I find it best to look away from the screen and increase it until it sounds right. 

Some people disagree with tuning vocals and can see it as cheating. I wouldn’t say that I use it all the time, it fits some genres more than others and there is the occasional vocalist that really doesn’t need it. I always feel that it’s the end result that matters and the tools you use don’t!

Kick and Bass    

Getting the low end right is a huge part to modern sounding mix. Without a solid low end with your bass guitar and kick working well together your mix can easily fall apart. The kick and bass are the foundations to many great mixes! In this blog post i’m going to show a few techniques to get them to sit nicely together. Firstly you have to decide what will sit in the lowest frequencies of the mix. This will vary between genre, but most of my mixes have the kick sitting below the bass guitar. As a rough guide, the low end of the kick drum tends to like around 50 – 70Hz and the bass guitar around 100 – 120 Hz.

One method is to use EQ. By side chain function on Pro – Q2 you can see the frequency analyzer of both the kick drum and bass guitar. This can then be used to carve out space, however as much as the visual aids can be helpful, it’s important to remember to use your ears! 

The next method is by using sidechain compression. This can be done with either a broadband or multiband compressor. A multiband compressor can be used to specifically target the frequencies that are overlapping. Allowing you to compress more aggressively. A good way to think of it is being a dynamic eq. In the image below I have side chained the kick drum to the bass guitar. This means that every time the kick drum hits, all the frequencies below 60Hz of the bass compress. The compressor is hit pretty hard at about – 12dB, if you did this with a broadband compressor it would be way to noticeable and you would hear the whole bass sound sucking in and out every time the kick hits, which can be a cool effect but is not what we are going for here. 

Sample Rooms

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to record in a real nice live room for the last few years that allows me to get nice big drum tones with room mics. However, when mixing songs that were recorded in a smaller room, there are still ways to get that big roomy drum sound. Here’s some tricks to help make your small room sound huge.

Start by choosing drum samples. SSD is perfect for this as you can separate the room and close mic for the same sample. Just solo the channel on the mixer then bounce it out. Once you have your sample, use an API 550a EQ, to boost lots of low end and mids and cut some highs. This is an attempt to replicate some of the characteristics that mono room with a ribbon mic would capture.

  

Another EQ can then be used to clean up some of the extreme lows and some low mid build up. Pro Q is perfect for this as you can easily sweep through and cut multiple problem frequencies. 

Having these big roomy samples lined up with your close drums can get messy and doesn’t replicate a room microphone as there will be some physical delay. By adding a delay it mimics the position of a room microphone, the longer the delay the further away the mic.

 

For compression I often choose Kramer Pie, crushed it pretty hard and crank the output to add some cool saturation. 

Sometimes with lots of compression it can result in the drums having too much sustain. To fix this pull back the release on a transient designer. This should help tuck these sample rooms into the mix.