Saturday, January 26, 2019

How to mix a song with free plugins part 4/5: Vocals!

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Now that with the previous articles of this serie we have built the walls of our mix, it's time to work on the focal point of our mix: the vocals (click here for an article abou the focus of our mix).

Most of the times the vocals are in facts the staple around which the whole song revolves, therefore is important to carve in the eq of the other instruments enough space for it to be heard properly; 
it's not easy to tell exactly where to carve since vocals are very different from singer to singer and from style to style, so the best thing to do is to locate the frequency area where the bulk of the sound is and to cut a couple of db in that area especially in the guitars and bass tracks, in order to prepare the stage for our vocal part (click here for an article that explains how to do it).

The first thing to do is to prepare an FX Track with the right effects (e.g. Delay and Reverb), and insert there an eq that makes them effective only from a certain frequency range up (we don't want to soak completely our vocal track also in the low end area making it sound like in a cavern), the process is described HERE, then we can proceed with the real mixing phase: 

Now that we have our vocal tracks mixed, it's worth mentioning the fact that there might be chances that our track is not yet sitting perfectly in the mix, for example there could be some part that is still too loud, or some part that gets covered by the other instruments. 
We might still need some additional step, which can be found here:

Once we are satisfied with the result we can move to the last step: keyboards and extra arrangements.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

How to mix a song with free plugins part 3/5: Guitars!

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Now that we have laid down our rhythm section, it's time to work on one of the most versatile instruments of a mix: the guitar.
A guitar can play almost every role in a song, according to the genre: it can do just some lick here and there as arrangement, it can be like in metal a pillar of the rhythmic section, it can substitute the vocals in a solo part.
As you can see, there is a lot to say and a lot to do.

Let's start by saying that a guitar track can be acquired by microphoning an amp or by going straight into a d.i. box and then reamping the sound, it can be acoustic, electric clean, distorted, and all the shades in between.
The guitar sound can even be virtual: there are virtual instruments that recreate the tone of a guitar, and that you can mix like real guitars (although they obviously will never have the realism of a real one).
About reamping with guitar amp simulators, here are the best free ones, and here is a comparison article with samples of the most populars among them.

- Do we need a strong rhythmic sound? Then we need to record two guitar tracks and pan them one left and one right (around 80% left and right should be fine to give a good sense of width, click here for an article about panning);
we might even consider quad tracking our guitars if we are confident that we would be able to record precise enough.

Click here for an article about how to mix rock/metal guitars.

Click here for an article about how to mix guitar solos.

After mixing our guitar tone we need to put it in the context of the mix, to make it sit perfectly among the other instruments, and sometimes we don't want to change too much the eq of our guitar sound: here's a way to make our guitar tone move more towards the midrange without changing the eq.

And finally, here's our omnicomprehensive article about effects and distortions with free VST plugins!





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Saturday, January 12, 2019

How to mix a song with free plugins part 2/5: Bass!

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
After we have our drums track ready and with a tone that we like (anyway we will need to adjust everything when the whole mix is more or less stable obviously, but we need to follow a certain order if we don't want to start building our house from the roof), it's time to further expand our rhytmic part of the song by taking care of the bass.

The bass sound, and in general the low end of a mix, is what often makes the difference between an amateur recording and a professional one, and this is caused by two factors:

1) the monitoring system (click here for a dedicated article): if we don't have a good one, it's almost impossible to have a realistic representation of what we are doing, basically we are mixing blindly, because we don't have a clear idea of how the mix will translate in the various platforms.

2) we need to mix keeping in mind the changes that happens during mastering: we need always to keep in mind that with the mastering the overall perceived loudness (and the low end) will be much more prominent, so we need to put in our mix neither too much low end nor too little (and if the mastering makes it unbalanced we need to reopen the mix and adjust).

After this fundamental introduction we need to mix our bass track by having always clear the mix separation (click here for a dedicated article): it's important that we assign to all instruments a specific place in the mix and that we avoid frequency masking, if we don't want them to disappear one behind the other.
The various instruments must pop out together and be always easily recognizable at all times, the mix must be clear and easy to listen if we want people to enjoy it.
In order to give every instrument its part in the spectrum we must also decide which one will be dominant between the kick and the bass: if we want the bass to be dominant (or "above the kick", like for example in Iron Maiden) we need to carve room in the eq of the kick leaving it more into the low end area and leaving more mids to the bass, or the other way around: if we want the kick to really poke through the mix (like in the band Fear Factory) we need to carve a bit of the mid range frequences out of the bass tone and use a kick sound with a lot of presence.

There are several ways to mix a bass, but the two most popular ones are described here: how to mix a good rock/metal bass (free vst plugins included).

Once we have a good bass tone, we need to balance it properly with the drum sound and a good rule is to use the Low End Mix Trick: we need put in solo the kick and bass tracks, then we zero out the bass volume and take notice of where the kick peaks (for example -15db), then we slowly rise the bass track volume until the sum of the 2 in the master bus is 3db louder than the kick alone (in our example so it should peak at -12db).
This is a good rule of thumb for building the low end of our mix, and starting from the kick-bass interaction we can develop the whole project on solid fundations.





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Saturday, January 5, 2019

How to mix a song with free plugins part 1/5: Drums!

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This time we're going to embark to a pretty huge topic that will touch many of the article already present on this blog, but with this I'm going to try and make order to what I've learned in the past few years and share some extra tip with you.
In order to obtain the maximum from this serie of articles please follow the hyperlinks, they all lead to in depth articles dedicated to the various topics.

The mixing process of an album is almost a philosophical project: it consists into gathering together a puzzle with a million pieces (songwriting, recordings of all instruments...) that would have no meaning on their own and carefully combine them in order to make a vision that until now is only in the head of the artist into a form that anyone can enjoy.
The process can be long and complicated, and it requires first of all order in our head: to help making order we have broken it down into one chapter for each instrument, in order to cover as many topics as possible.
Even before starting putting together our project it's important that we have clear in mind the focus of our mix (click here for a dedicated article): this will be the north start that will guide us through the mix, and will give us a direction towards where the overall sound should aim.

Let's start by assuming that we have a good song, and that this song has been recorded properly: we start with the project preparation phase (click here for a very detailed article), and once we have all the tracks in order, the project tidy and color coded, we make sure that the gain staging is correctly set to make sure that no track (nor the master fader) peaks above -12db.

I suggest to start with a mix bus compressor (click here for a dedicated article) in the master bus set very gently (2:1 to 4:1 ratio, the more dynamic and aggressive the genre, the higher the ratio), and lower the threshold knob until you see you are shaving off not more than a couple of db of peak: this move seems useless at the beginning, but it will add a little of energy to the mix, will help the instruments to glue better together and will allow us to push less with the compressors in the individual tracks, which is usually more noticeable and can be less pleasant.
Moving on with the mix we'll be introducing also all the other instruments, and gradually the general volume will be increasing: we need to lower the faders of the individual instruments in order to make sure that we we'll be still shaving off not more than 2db with the M.B.C., and not peak above -12.
This will be a good way to keep under control the gain staging and the headroom, we're going to need it in the mastering phase.

The general rule is that a mix is made of many 1% moves that all must go towards the direction of achieving an euphonic final result: you can try and experiment with all the crazy plugins and processors you want, but after each move you must always a/b with the plugin on and off (using a reference track at every step to see whether we are going in the right direction): if the sound gets better, leave it, if it doesn't add anything or it makes it worse, remove it. Sometimes less is more.

Now let's start with the drums, the pulsating heart of our song: if we get this right, we are already halfway there.
Are we using a drum sampler? Is the drum sampler featuring pre-processed sounds? 
In this case we need to spend most of our attention to which samples to use: carefully go through you whole library of drum samplers and individual samples to find the perfect snare, the perfect kick and so on, because once they are there, there is very little room for mixing, since the samples are already processed.
You can find many free and paid drum samplers on this blog by simply typing drum sampler in the search engine.
Once we have our ideal drum sound we need to work with the integrated mixer of our drum samper to make the levels, and we could probably add some high-passed reverb through an fx track (we can high pass the reverb to make sure it affects only from a certain part of our sound up) from 200hz to 1000hz up (this way we will avoid the sample to get too dark and boomy), and to carefully introduce some of it into the snare, toms and cymbal tracks to make them feel like they are being played in the same room.
Usually with pre-processed samples there is no need for extra eq and compression.

This is a good moment to hear the aid that the bus compressor is giving us: try to playback the drum track and turn it on and off from the master bus: you will notice that there is an 1% increase of fatness and roundness to the sound, and this is just one of the many 1% a mix is made of.
If the sound instead starts pumping (meaning that when a loud sound like a snare is played the other ones lowers in volume) it means we need to lower the compressor.

Are we instead using real drum sounds or non processed samples? 
Then we need to follow the steps of our in depth drum mixing guide.





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