Greetings guitarists, so you want to mix and master your demo?
Thanks to the advances of technology, most guitarists (who lets admit, sometimes struggle to feed themselves) can afford a budget home studio for their bedrooms.
Once you have that, it all comes down to your skill as a sound engineer and, to a certain extent, the speakers that you have available to you.
If you can’t hear what’s going on, you can’t be expected to mix properly.
That being said, when I first started I would play the song on six or more different systems and be constantly tweaking the mix because all the speakers were telling me something different. Now I am down to three sets that I mix on.
- A home made near-field monitor set-up (I basically combined a Pioneer car speaker system with a Samsung Hi-Fi sub and a computer PSU). Not exactly elegant but remember what I said about feeding ourselves.
- A pair of Seinhouser HD380 studio headphones
- A pair of Apple earpods (for dat bass)
With these three things I can get a good mix, although I am noticing more and more that my home-made set up is a bit deceiving so I will need to invest in a set of monitors like the KRK Rokit 6‘s someday.
Back to the point of this blog post!
So you have got your desired kit and managed to throw down a few recordings and maybe a midi drum track.
You have also made sure that your recordings are not too soft and not too loud and clipping. Clipping is bad.
You are now ready to begin mixing.
The fundamental principle is balance, so with that in mind go ahead and adjust the volume of all your tracks. Kick drum first, bring its level to just below peaking and then after that use your ears to bring all the other tracks to a nice complementary level.
At the foundation of all mixes is EQ and compression. These are your bread and butter tools. You need to use them to shape the audio frequency of all your sounds so that they can fit together in the mix.
For example, guitars, vocals, snare drums and synths all have a lot of frequencies in the mid-range. If we don’t EQ and create an actual space for each instrument to sit in, then they are going to drown each other out and create a messy mix.
EQing is very artistic in a way; there is a lot of creativity involved in the mid-range of your mix. You can choose what parts of the instrument to emphasize and what parts to diminish – this is what makes the mix unique.
Bass and treble for the most part just needs to be right. Too much or too little of either will just sound bad so using your EQ properly in these areas is paramount.
Go ahead and put a parametric equalizer on every track in your mix. Use the EQ to cut away all the frequencies that you don’t want interfering with the mix from each instrument.
Depending on the instrument, you will want to cut less or more away from the high and low frequencies. Use your ears to decide.
Next cut and boost frequencies that you feel make a positive change to the sound of the instrument. This requires some playing around.
Exercise your ears and remember the range between 2.5khz and 5khz is where the human ear is most sensitive, so if you boost too much there it will sound very harsh.
I have set the numbers on the parametric EQ to key frequencies whose characteristics you should remember while mixing.
- #1.) Low-cut 20-200hz. This is your sub-bass, get rid of what you don’t want and use what you keep wisely
- #2.) 120hz. Boomyness
- #3.) 240hz. Fatness
- #4.) 300-1khz. Dead space or hidden frequencies
- #5.) 1-2.5khz. Crunch and bite
- #6.) 2.5-5khz. Harshness or hidden frequencies
- #6-7.) 5-12hkz. Crispness, attack and sizzle
- #7.) High-cut 12khz+. Frequencies that don’t have much musical value
Sharp boosts or cuts in the hidden frequency areas can sometimes bring something special out in the mix.
Use these principles to shape the sound of all your tracks. Continue to balance the levels and the EQ and try to make complementary choices like cutting a certain frequency in the guitars and boosting that same frequency in the vocals to help them stand out in the mix.
Mixing is a creative art, so treat it like one and mess around sometimes. Trying things that you don’t think will work may just turn out great. It is like painting in a lot of ways, only with sound and not colors.
It is a good idea to rest your ears every once and a while; maybe listen to something else for a second. It is easy for your perception of what sounds good to get distorted if you listen to the same thing over and over again.
Don’t focus on loudness at this point. That comes with compression and mastering. Just trying get a well balanced mix.
Good luck with this phase. I hope you had fun with it. Join us again tomorrow for Part 2 of How to mix and master a demo recording: Compression.