Leap Studios mixing tutorial
In this tutorial I will show you some of the steps that I took to mix an artist's self-recorded song.
Song - "Can we go"
Artist - Color Spy (Mitch Vette)
As a producer, when I receive a session from a client the first thing that I do is evaluate its overall feel and the way that the tracks have been recorded.
Just looking at the mix I could see that there were a large number of tracks including drums, bass, bass synth, synthesizers, piano, vocals, vocal doubles, busses, ahhs, harmonies and master faders.
One of the largest problems the original mix had was that some of the tracks really didn't need any processing at all to sound great, so some of the tracks from the Leap studios mix just have the instruments pulled up and singing naturally.
Also, sometimes artists don't know when a song is getting too dense with tracks, that's why it helps to have a third-person point of view, such as myself, to give a little perspective to a song. I decided that there were some good parts and some bad parts in the track and that I would need to let the nice-sounding parts shine and while cutting some of the fat of the tracks that either didn't sound as good or were improperly placed. (The guitars that were included with the original session were pretty out of tune and so I deleted them.... Got to cut the dead weight, you know?)
Though the session included vocals I decided to take them out and use only the instruments for this mix tutorial.
The session's organization wasn't working for me so I started completely from scratch. First I removed the client's plugins and automation and then organized the session to look the way that I normally like my sessions to look. I then set up my buses and routings. For this session I used a drums bus, drums upwards bus, an instruments bus and a master bus. I also like to color my tracks accordingly so that all tracks that are related to each other have close to the same color.
TIP - Sometimes when I receive a session from the client, some of the audio tracks have been either normalized or the gain is too high to allow for use of plug-ins without clipping. Before I start the mix I will make sure that I have at least 3 to 6 DB of headroom to allow for clean plug-in processing.
My overall view of the drums that came with the session were that they didn't support the song as well as they needed to, so I decided to get rid of all the drums except for the toms, shaker and reverse swells.
I began by removing the old drums and replacing them with a custom-made MIDI roll controlled by the plug-in "Battery". I use Battery because it allows me to load in and assign custom drum samples to specific keyboard notes and allows for easy editing. I also changed the placement of some of the kick drums and snare hits to keep the song's momentum going.
The following photo is an expanded view of the Battery midi roll.
The midi regions towards the top will be cymbals and claps. Regions in the center are snares and midi regions at the bottom are kicks.
TIP - Another benefit of using a midi controlled drum sampler is that it greatly reduces the vertical size of your session.
The toms were either deleted or moved to the places where they were most appropriate for the song and all routed to a stereo bus. I only put a tiny bit of limiting on them to tame a naturally pokey attack they had but otherwise they sounded great.
When it comes to hihats, lately I've been live-tracking them myself in the studio (I am a drummer by the way). I do this because I find that sampled hihats lack the articulation and nuance that real hihats have. The hihats in this session are real live-tracked hihats.
I used the shaker and reverse swells from the original session and put an auto pan on the reverse swells to give them a little more life and movement. The shaker was a little high in pitch and so I used a distortion to thicken them up combined with a Low pass filter to knock out some of the high frequencies to make them feel a little darker.
To finish off the drums mix I used a drums bus which had all the drums routed to it unprocessed. Along with that I used what I call an "upwards drum bus". An upwards drum bus is essentially a bus that receives all the audio just like the regular drum bus, but it has a good amount of EQ removing low mids and adding sub lows and highs which is then compressed really hard. You then mix this in with the natural drum sound and it pulls up the sustain of the drums.
BASS AND BASS SYNTH
The bass for this track was recorded with classic stingray bass guitar. It was recorded by Color Spy and had a really good sound to it.
I found that the bass really worked the way it was tracked but I added some EQ, tape emulation, and compression to even it out. The bass is a single track all the way until the chorus but during the chorus it starts to feel a little consumed by the rest of the instruments. The way I fixed this was by copying the bass track to a secondary track below it. On that track I applied some distortion and compression. Again, this is another way of doing upwards compression on the track but combining it with distortion makes sure that the mids come through a dense mix well and also adds excitement and punch.
There was originally only one bass synth track but I decided to split it up into two tracks. The first track only comes in on the second verse and I used it to keep it lower instead of just doing automation because at the time I thought I might and up EQing it differently, but in the end I did not. The second track is mixed a slight bit louder than the first and also has some EQ to make the hi-mids punch through the song.
In my opinion the acoustic guitar was a neat choice to add to the song because it is a little odd for the genre. It was recorded by the client and I decided to use it but it needed pretty heavy editing to make it work with the song. It was playing some downbeats where I felt like it needed to be more of an upbeat thing and so I cut and pasted certain parts to make it work There was one frequency around 300 Hz which was kind of boxy sounding so I notched it out to make sure it didn't sound cloudy. I also added overall EQ and compression to it to make it sit well.
Most of the synths didn't need anything except to be cut out in places where they were overbearing and then sat into the mix appropriately. The piano only needed a slight bit of EQ. The verse pad originally played during the first parts of the choruses but I decided that the verse pad could drop out for the beginnings of the chorus and then come in halfway through to give it a lift.
The following photo is a screenshot of the mix once it has been finished complete with my plug-ins and automation. Notice that some of the audio regions have been deleted in places where there was too much going on. By removing some of these parts I left room for the more important elements of the mix.
As you can see above and below, the session has been greatly simplified, using about half the plug-ins compared to the original mix.
Before I start the new mix I make sure that I have a master bus on the session and I routinely load a tape emulation onto the master bus. I find that using tape emulation helps to smooth out the pokey-ness that digital recording or mixing can usually exhibit. The tape sound also adds a bit of density. At the end of the mix I evaluated my overall EQ coming out of my monitors and decided that the low-end was just a bit too heavy. To correct this I used the Manley massive passive EQ to shelve down some of the low-end and brighten up a bit of high-mids.