TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 38 Mixing

Last week we embarked on the mix stage of the multitrack process, by briefly looking at mixer and monitoring considerations, automation and the importance of resting your ears prior to a mix as well as saving and backing up your work.

This week we’ll look at a few different types of mixing consoles and mention a few more mixing tips. Then get into setting levels, adding signal processing and consider where to place the various instruments in the stereo field, next week.

Allen & Heath GS-R24 Analog Mixer.

For most Home Music Studios, space is often limited. So the favourite options for mixers are compact analog or digital consoles; a Studio-In-A-Box (SIAB) type system, sometimes called a Portastudio; or software mixers which are controlled by your computer mouse and keyboard.

Tascam DP-03 8 Track Digital Portastudio And Boss BR800.

The facilities provided by SIABs can vary considerably, from basic to reasonably sophisticated. Most provide the facility to record, overdub, edit and mix. There are a few manufacturers who provide various models on the market…..Tascam and Boss are popular makes.

Remember, you only get what you pay for. It’s an awful lot to ask for in a small portable unit, so if you are aiming for the best possible recordings and mixes, you need to consider consoles, DAWs and programmes that can handle the highest quality and complexity.

Software mixers can be extremely sophisticated, but controlling that degree of sophistication with a mouse and keyboard is challenging when you have a complicated mix.

3 Control Surfaces By Mackie, Behringer & Digidesign (Avid).

A good alternative is to connect a ‘control surface’, which interfaces with your software and allows you to mix with real faders and control knobs for adjusting various parameters of your mix. Mackie, Behringer and Digidesign (Avid) produce popular units.

Some include an audio interface too, which allows I/O options. Certain control surfaces work better with Pro Tools others work better with Logic or other software programmes. Use the  hyperlinks above but also do your own research! 🙂

Analog Behringer SX3282 – 32 Channel Mixer For Approximately $1000.

The stand alone mixing consoles often provide the most comprehensive facilities. Digital mixers have the advantage of being able to perform the same tasks as analog mixers, but often take up much less space. For example, the fader sliders can often be switched to handle tracks 1-8, 9-16 or 17-24 etc, very quickly. Therefore, you don’t need a dedicated fader for each of your tracks.

Digital PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2 – 16 Channel Mixer For Approximately $2000.

Combining automation with a quality digital mixer or control surface gives you immense power when mixing…..from providing a huge number of I/O options, send and bus configurations to remembering the smallest fader or EQ adjustment. Mixing your music is under your total control.

Before we get into discussing an actual mix, considering specific EQs for instruments and looking at the uses of other signal processing, I’d like to suggest a few more generic tips in addition to the ones I offered at the end of the last Home Music Studio blog. But remember, these are just suggestions based on many years of mixing. They’re not rules.

  • Set your mixer to neutral…..trim pots to unity, faders at 0dB, EQ flat, aux sends down, routing to left/right etc. Mute any tracks/channels that are not in use.
  • Initially, listen through to your mix without looking at or being influenced by the meters for each track, so that you can concentrate on the overall balance between the instruments. Get a rough level setting for all the tracks, then pull levels down if tracks are peaking too much.


Labelled Tracks In Pro Tools.

  • Before you start mixing, label your tracks…..this can be done directly on the track in a software programme. Or if you are using an analog console, place a strip of artist’s tape across the base of all the channels in use and label them with a felt tip pen.

Label Your Music Tracks On An Analog Console.

  • Subgroup tracks that naturally work together e.g. the drums. Get relative levels and EQ sorted on the kick, snare, hi-hat and overheads then subgroup them to a single or a stereo pair of faders. Make sure any effects (e.g. reverb) are routed to the same subgroup.
  • Use commercially released recordings as a reference. Pick a song that you like, are familiar with or that inspires you. It’s arrangement or production values may help steer you towards your goal or it may simply sound the way you want your song to end up. Your ears don’t always tell you the truth. So a reference CD can help to bring you back towards the sound you’re aiming for.

An Array Of Effects Plug-Ins.

  • It’s hard to resist all those effects processors, but don’t overuse them, especially reverb. Too much reverb will just confuse and muddy the mix. Instruments and vocals will lack clarity. In general, reverb or echo will distance an instrument, whilst a drier sound will place the instrument more upfront. Except for those ‘special effect’ moments, most effects you add should only be noticed when they’re removed. You can test the validity of an effect and how much of it should be used, by muting and unmuting the effect.
  • Try to EQ instruments while the full mix is playing. If you apply EQ to an instrument in isolation, it may lead you to make an adjustment to that instrument, which does not work when it’s played in the whole mix. This suggestion also holds true for applying other types of signal processing e.g. chorus, flange or reverb.
  • And remember compressors are for controlling dynamics, not for increasing volume.

Cutting Frequencies Can Often Produce Better Results Than Boosting.

  •  If you hear a problem that is frequency related, try to fix it by cutting EQ rather than boosting it. The ear is less sensitive to cuts. Plus, cuts are less noticeable if you are having to use cheaper EQ units.
  • Panning and EQ… most cases the kick drum and bass guitar will sound best, placed in the centre of the stereo image, where they will reinforce each other giving plenty of punch. Natural dynamics in the performance are good, but don’t alter the levels of drums or bass.
  • Certain instruments can find it difficult to establish their presence in a mix, if there’s a lot going on in the same frequency range and/or stereo position. For example, acoustic guitars can often get lost or confuse the low-mid in a big rock mix. Reducing the emphasis on the low-end will usually produce more definition and remove any muddiness.

Command 8 Close Up – Showing Control Room Monitoring Section.

  • At various times during the mix process, monitor your mix in mono. Most mixers will have a mono switch which if depressed will sum all the channels together, placing the sounds in the centre. You may find that instruments which sounded clear and loud enough in stereo, become lost in mono. The reason could be a phasing problem or simply a level issue.
  • Check your mix on headphones. You will hear things that just don’t register when monitoring on speakers. I’m not suggesting actually mixing with headphones, they are unpredictable at low frequencies. Just use them to focus on a problem or catch a mistake e.g. an out of tune vocal. Another useful trick is to listen to your mix from outside your room. Putting distance between you and the speakers will sometimes show up level imbalances, that you don’t hear when you are right in front of your monitors.
  • You may find the best mix is produced in the first hour or so of mixing, so save regularly. As you spend more time on the mix, making finer and more subtle adjustments, you and your ears get tired, often producing no discernible improvement in the mix. Leaving the mix and coming back to it later, gives you more objectivity towards your own work. But always, always, always save everything and back up your mix sessions, including all effects settings. You may want to do a remix in a week, a month or a year.

Next, we’ll look at vocals and specific instruments and how to best treat them in the mix. We’ll also consider the use of automation.

TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering provide full recording, mixing, mastering and production services from their facilities in the UK and Nashville, USA. For more information, click here.

Explore posts in the same categories: Music, Recording Studios, Sound Recording

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  1. Nick Says:

    Very interesting Blog, thankyou for your hard work!

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