I can't remember the name, but I once read a quote from a famous mix engineer about mixing. I'll paraphrase it: "There's no such thing as the perfect mix, only what you deemed to be a good mix on that day. Tomorrow, you'll probably mix it differently.."
Sometimes you need to do a quick mix. Perhaps a demo mix for a client. Over time, I've developed a methodology to mix an entire track in about 15 minutes which I'm about to share with you.
Please note this is not a guide for the "perfect mix." Like you, I'll obsess for hours to get that. Instead, if you need to mix in a hurry, perhaps this guide will help.
I'll be using the stock plug-ins in Logic 8 on the basis you'll have similar tools available. I'm also assuming you know the basic techniques of mixing and plug-in operation.
Sounds counterintuitive to the concept of a quick mix? Not really. Spending a couple of minutes tidying up your project will save you time later. Trust me, if you don't do this at the beginning, you'll slow the whole mix process later on when you're hunting for the bass track or applying EQ to the wrong guitar part. Name tracks, apply colours if you can, Group instruments and arrange the mixing board in a manner that's logical to you.
I'll assume you know how to solo individual instruments in your DAW of choice! The main task here is to choose an EQ "profile" for the lower end of your mix. In order to save mix headroom ,you'll need to decide whether the kick drum or bass part will contain the low frequencies for the mix.
The trick here is to cut frequencies. For both instruments, I'd recommend using a high pass filter EQ, cut-off point at around 40Hz. This will get rid of any earthquake style "rumblings" from your lower frequency instruments - sounds that most listeners will never hear.
The next step is to listen to both the kick and bass together. Decide which part will carry the low frequencies, and clear any overlapping frequencies from the other part.
In this example, I've chosen the kick part (below) to carry my low end. Note the cut-off at 58Hz.
Below, I've cut frequencies from my bass part so not to "clash" with my kick. In isolation, it'll sound a little "weedy" - but together, the kick and bass will make a cohesive low end.
Remember, this is a guide for a quick mix! You'll want to go into more detail than this for a "proper" mix. Remember, speed is of the essence.
Bring up the snare drum fader. At this point you might want to cut some lower frequencies from the snare to brighten it up. If you're mixing a pop or urban track, try matching the peak levels of the kick and snare drums exactly. It's surprising how often this gives the perfect balance between the two parts.
At this point we're going to be paying attention to panning. I'm going on the basis you've panned the bass, kick and snare to the exact middle of your mix. Position the rest of your drum and percussion parts across the stereo field.
Don't worry too much about EQ here. Your hi-hats already sparkle! If you must, "roll off" any unwanted lower frequencies using a high pass filter. This will help "clean up" your mix. The majority of the percussion parts can be separated using panning controls.
First, mute all your drum, percussion and bass parts!
Now select your "principle instruments." I do a lot of urban mixing so for me, this will be a piano, guitar, Rhodes or synth. The "principle instrument" will vary but as a guide, this is the instrument that defines the chords of the track.
EQ your first principle instrument and place in the stereo field using panning. Next, choose your second most important instrument and repeat. Work your way thought the rest of the instruments, cutting frequencies and positioning the parts in the stereo field.
Check out the example below. Note the Rhodes and "Wah Guitar" have a Tremolo plug-in applied to move the parts throughout the stereo space.
Remember the following points:
Once you've completed mixing your "inner instruments" - un-mute the drums, percussion and bass parts. Set the relative levels and proceed to the next step!
Bring up the main vocal part and audition with the rest of the mix. Open your EQ plug-in and insert a high pass filter at about 100Hz. Whilst listening to the entire mix, increase the frequency of the cut-off point until your main vocal "sits" in the mix, not on top. Add a little high frequency for "air and sparkle" and quickly compress to taste. Don't spend too long here..
If you need to add auto tune to flatter your client, use one of the blanket "auto modes." Using the Auto Tune plug-in, select the key scale of your track and use a medium attack time for the pitch correction. Set just enough to hear the tuning work.
Add any backing vocals. Copy any EQ and compressor settings you used for the main vocals to the backing vocal channel strips. I'm going on the assumption you've double-tracked (or more!) your backing vocals. If so, spread your backing vocal parts across the stereo field to taste. For the purposes of our "quick mix" - I'd suggest pushing the backing vocals to the far extremes of the stereo field using pan.
Pretty self explanatory. Start the track and tweak levels as you go for all parts. Remember, you're doing a rough mix here. Resist the urge to start automating parts....
Mastering a quick mix? Absolutely. Everyone wants a loud mix, right?
Find your best EQ. I'm using Logic's Linear Phase EQ. Insert the EQ plug-in on your master channel, across the entire mix. Insert a high-pass filter to roll off any extreme low end that has crept back into your mix. This will give you more headroom.
Next - and here's my secret tip - insert a broad frequency boost around 3000Hz. Nine times out of ten, I find this brightens up the mix effectively.
Finally, arm your limiter of choice. Set the limiter at 0db and use to maximise the perceived volume of your track.
So, have you created the perfect mix? Er, no. However, you've created a rough mix to give to a client without wasting unnecessary time, and you're probably nearer your final mix than you think....