Mixing tracks – a basic approach to setting up your project

Mixing tracks – a basic approach to setting up your project

There are many guidelines that can help you mix your track – too many to point out here with a huge varying number of methods and tricks that will help you get a balanced and sweet sounding mix.

Over the past few months I have been working on a few projects that I’ve been sent by aspiring producers who have sent me their Logic Pro Projects to mix and tweak. Having the complete Project means I can delve inside the track and sort out any problems, replace elements where needed and generally process individual parts that need it.
This is what has triggered me to put down a few pointers and guidelines that can be followed when building a track up.

Having seen how some people put things together and the methods they use to get certain results has proved how the saying ‘less is more’ is even more true.
Over complicating things can very easily hold you back in the creative process and achieving the final result while mixing and applying EQ.
Too many times I have sat trying to unpick tracks that are badly set up before I can begin to work on them. From a customers point of view, this will cost. Providing a track in the correct way will speed things up hugely and help to keep costs down. More on how to package up the project folder another time.

While centered around dance music production, these technique can also be applied to all forms of music and the production process.

Starting Out.
Start as you mean to go on and set some initial levels.
Leave the master output fader at zero, do all your levels using the individual channel faders and busses.

Get a kick and bass and have them peaking together at around 3/4 (somewhere between -3dB and -6dB).
This will mean all the other elements will naturally fall into roughly the correct area around them.

Avoid going into the red as this will just distort the signal and you will not be able to use other processes such as compression effectively.

Once you have started to add other elements it will become obvious how they sit in the mix, keep an eye on the faders and the levels as it will be a good indication of which elements are then the factors that push your mix level higher.

Lets say for example you now have the following parts in your track:
1. Kick
2. Bass
3. A few individual drums
4. A loop or two

You should now be able to see how having them all play together affects the overall output level.
Drop things in and out by muting them. Which elements are the main peak level munchers?

This is a good time to adjust your channel faders to accommodate the above.
If your output is getting pushed into the red, then bring things down a little until it sits nicely within the 3/4 area. Simple!!

Moving On.
You may notice at this stage that certain channels are bouncing around quite a lot. This is a natural effect of sounds.
All sounds will have transients and peaks, some more than others. These transients will be the main factor that determine your overall peak level.
Any sound that has a sharp attack (drums for example) can quickly push your peak level into the red. It’s then up to you to control things at their source, on individual channels where needed, or on busses to minimise the adverse effect of those peaks using compression, limiting and enveloping.

From here in you will in no doubt be quite possibly getting into a mess as you add things to try. Crafting tracks can be a creative process that is often held back by getting bogged down in thinking about levels, peaks, eq, compression and limiting so be careful not to over complicate your processing by religiously adding compressors and limiters to all channels. You can always do this later once the main elements are all in. Yes, you may have to use compressors as you go for either creative techniques and some producers like to write through a compressor as it shapes the sound heavily in a way that is intended.
Just think why you are adding a compressor or limiter, does the sound actually require it?

Quick Mix.
When you are on a roll there is nothing worse than things that slow you down. By having a few things on hand as you go, it can keep things rolling.
Set a couple of reverbs up that can be used on send busses, one short room reverb and a longer spacial reverb. These can quickly be added to sounds to help you get an idea of the mix early on. You can replace them later for individual sounds as required.
Try using filters on buss channels that you can group things into. This is a great way to add transitions over sections on selected grouped parts.

I have seen a fair few mixes that incorporate far too many elements that crown the mix and serve not enough purpose. Tiny percussion hits that get lost in the mix will just eat up your headroom and crowd the spectrum. Use things sparingly. If your track is going to be played on a sound system then remember that everything is exaggerated. A track can quickly become muddy and over complicated. Remember those tracks you hear at a festival that reduce to a kick and a single sound?

A few things to try anyway.