Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Minimal Mixing Approach Part 1/2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to take a look to the "mixing phase" version of the "minimal mindset", the same that we have already examined with our "The Minimal Mastering Chain" article.
We're going to strip down a simple rock mix to its essential elements, taking as few steps as possible to achieve a good sound, and the idea behind these minimal articles is to make you understand what is more important and what is just "flavour", since priority is fundamental, especially when working with deadlines.
This article does not substitutes to the dedicated articles I've made in which I explain how to mix guitars, bass, drums, vocals...
And since we're covering just the basics we won't lose too much time into shaping the tone or fixing in the mix: if on a regular mix the original sound is 60% of the job, in this case it's gonna be 85%, so tune drums right, avoid excessive mic bleed, mic the guitar amp properly, edit the tracks so that there are no playing mistakes and so on.

let's imagine we have a rock project with 14 tracks:

- 8 acoustic or sampled drum tracks (kick, snare, 3 toms, 2 overheads and 1 hi hat)
- 3 electric guitar tracks (two rhythm ones on the sides and a lead one in the center)
- 2 vocal tracks (lead vocals and backing vocals)
- 1 bass guitar track

Starting with drums: first off we need to break down the tracks into 4 groups: 1 group with the toms, panned as we're sitting on the drumset, 1 group with the cymbals, 1 track with just the snare and 1 with just the kick.

Snare: this is the single most important element of the mix, together with vocals, and the sound that will draw most attention from the listener, so we need to get it right. if there is too much hi-hat bleed we can start with a Gate, then add a compressor that will tame the peaks and add fatness to the sound, and an equalizer to filter out the unneeded frequences.

Toms: with this group track, since it's a stereo track (a sum of 3 mono tracks with different panning) we will need to make sure we're using stereo plugins.
The chain is the same of the snare, but with different settings (the gate will need to be harder since the ideal would be to let the tom tracks be heard only when the tom is actually played, in order to avoid unwanted mic bleed), and always filtering out the unneeded frequences.

Kick: this drum part will need to stick out particularly, so compression and eq are fundamental: compression to even out the hits, so don't be afraid to push the comp more than the other tracks, and with the eq we're going to need to boost a bit the high frequences, to make them poke through the mix. If the sound is still too muddy, we can also add a harmonic exciter.

Cymbals: these microphones records basically the whole drumset and we can't gate them if we don't want to cut unnaturally the long tails of the crash cymbals, so we will need to do a pretty drastic eq, filtering out basically everything untile the bulk of the drums are gone, and then we can take out some annoying frequency and compress a bit to even out the hits, otherwise sometimes we might hear a crash hit with a much higher volume than the other ones.

Moving to the Bass Guitar: once we're satisfied with the drum sound, that must be clean and snappy enough, this is the second step to take: we take the bass track, for example recorded through a d.i. box, we load a good bass amp simulator (for example Ignite Shb-1) and filter out some of the higher and lower frequences until the instrument has a defined place in the mix that will not fight with the other elements.  Here we can choose wether to use a compressor with a high ratio to keep the low area of our mix absolutely stable, or to put two compressors in cascade, with lower settings, to preserve a bit more the original shape of the transient. The basic idea, though, is to keep the bass steady through the whole song, with no particular volume variations.


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