How to mix and master a demo recording pt.3: FX
Hello again. Good to have you back with us for the how to mix and master a demo series.
Today we will be getting into FX/effects.
As you probably know, there are many effects like distortion, chorus, phaser and flanger that can drastically change a sound. Today we will only be looking at two slightly more subtle effects that are right at home in the studio.
I’m talking about stereo separation and reverb.
You will need headphones for this.
These two simple effects can take a dry and dead recording and fill the room with it. Used stylistically and appropriately, it can make your demo a pleasure to listen to, which is what we all want.
Let’s tackle the twin troubled red-headed step children of mixing first, stereo separation.
I say that because to get a really good and wide separation you will typically need two plugins, a stereo enhancer and a stereo shaper.
You will also need to beat the hell out of them to make them do what you want. Lets start with the stereo enhancer.
Select the “pre” setting and push the stereo separation to full or close to full. This will ensure that the effect will take place when we start messing with the phase.
Turn the volume knob down because things are going to get loud with our next plugin.
Now slowly adjust the phase offset knob to the left or right, your choice. Don’t go further then 15ms in either direction or things will start to get weird.
This knob controls most of the effect, so position it carefully. To learn more about what the knob is doing to the sound, visit this wiki on audio phase.
Next the cherry on top, the stereo shaper. (Volume warning, what we are about to do in this plugin will seriously boost the volume)
The leftmost and rightmost slider controls how much of the left speaker or right speaker’s mix appears in the opposite speaker. Move these sliders to the full max positions of the top or bottom bar and leave the middle sliders where they are. Rhyming skillz yo 😉
The delay and phase knobs control the syncing of the left and right channels mix. Moving the knobs away from each other at equal amounts widens the signal. Don’t go higher then 15ms here as well.
We want this plugin to be set to post, which it is by default.
Great! Now we have a nicely separated sound. But wait there’s more! We have some options to fiddle with!
On the stereo shaper, there are four different positions that drastically change the stereo position of the instrument in space. These are:
Each of these positions sends a mono signal to be mixed in with the left or right speaker in a positive or negative phase. This creates strong and interesting changes in the stereo spectrum of the track.
Check out these different positions and get creative.
Lastly, use the pan control on the stereo enhancer plug to appropriately position your new stereoized track in stereo space.
This is great to use on lead vocals, backing vocals, rhythm guitar… Hell use it on whatever you want. It sounds great.
When you get really into it, you should be picking points in stereo space that you want your instrument to sit in. You can even creatively pick different points for each instrument. Mixing and fulling the stereo space in a way similar to how we EQed the frequency spectrum in our previous lesson.
Now that we have that out of the way we can focus on the fun stuff, Reverb!
Everyone loves a bit of reverb right? Hell yeah! But please, for the love of all that is sacred, don’t over do it.
Reverb is like magic fairy dust that you lightly sprinkle on a track just to fill in the dead space. Let’s go through what all the knobs do.
- Mid/Side is where you are listening to your sound from in your simulated space.
- High cut and low cut is highest and lowest frequency that is let into the wet signal.
- Delay is how long it takes for the reverb to begin, T tempo syncs it.
- Size is the size of your simulated space.
- Diffusion is the amount of reflection surfaces your simulated space has.
- Bass is dat bass and cross is how much bass is in dat bass.
- Decay is how long the reverb tail will be, essentially you are choosing between a small room or a mile long cavern.
- Dampening is like wrapping a pillow around the microphone that is recording the simulated audio bouncing madness. The tighter you wrap the pillow, the less high frequencies get through.
- Dry is the signal without any reverb. Early reflections is exactly that and wet is the pure reverb.
Balance accordingly and remember if you dump a whole ton of reverb on all of your tracks you are just going to end up with a jumbled mess.
Instead, carefully shape your reverb into a narrow frequency using the H.cut and L.cut that complements the track and surrounding tracks and only use reverb on a couple of the tracks in your mix to really get the best out of it.
Listen to other commercial albums and try to figure out where they used reverb.
One type of reverb is where all the frequencies are cut except for the highest ones. This is used on a vocal track to emphasize sibilance.
Another is a wide mid-ranged reverb used to add depth to an electric guitar during an epic solo.
Get creative and experiment with reverb. It really is a fun effect to play with.
These are the only special effects you really need. Sure you can add others to taste, but these two are fundamental.
I hope you had fun and learnt some valuable lessons about stereo separation and reverb.
I’m sure by now your mix is sounding pretty sweet and your guitars and vocals are taking up way more space in your mix then they were before.
The final step is to master it, which means getting the overall frequency balance and volume right and making it radio friendly.
Join us tomorrow for that, our final segment of how to mix and master a demo recording. Peace!