Saturday, February 23, 2019

5 tips to declutter your mix

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
After 2 weeks of reviews it's time to get back to talk about mixing, with 5 tips for declutter our mix.

The purpose of this article is to find some solution to a common problem, which is our curse and our delight at the same time as amateur mix engineers: the fact that when mixing we love to experiment, try new plugins, see what happens if I add this tool on the chain, this effect, and so on, to the point that all the tracks lose their body, they become distant, a bit distorted, starts covering each other and in general the sound becomes terrible.
This happens because there is too much aimless processing going on, and because we are making too many random choices with tools we have no idea of how to use.

This is a good starting point to initiate a "diet" for our project: clean up, declutter, tidy up the routing let the original tracks breathe; just by taking away the useless processing the tracks will get back in focus and become more clear, and from there with few, well studied moves we can make them sound awesome.

1) Clean up your channel inserts: the first thing to do if we find ourselves in a plateau in which we don't like what we have but we don't know where to start to fix the mix, is to clean up all the channel inserts from the thousands of random Vst plugins we have loaded. Clean slate.
Now let's get into the order of ideas of putting as little plugins as possible in each single track, and if possible to leave them completely empty, putting everything that we need in the group tracks.
Let's try to adopt an old school approach, like with the mixing boards of the 70s, in which there was a limited number of tracks, a limited number of effect tracks and let's try to get to the result with as few moves as possible.

2) Grouping and using Buses: the second step is to create group tracks for basically everything. One for all rhythm guitars, one for all the toms, one for all crash cymbals, one for all the vocals and so on, leaving out only the tracks that are unique (for example a bass track, or if there is only one vocal track). In these groups we can process and effect our tracks together, giving coherence to the overall sound and processing with our minimal approach that hopefully will bring to our final result more focus, clarity and headroom.

3) Use Fx Tracks intelligently: create an fx track with a reverb and one with a delay, to be dosed in different amounts among the instruments (short tail delay for solos and vocals, reverb in small amounts for almost all tracks except those with a low oriented eq such as bass, kick, rhythm guitars...), this will give the impression that the song is performed in the same room, and will add coherence and realism to the final result.

4) Choose few plugins per type (better if just one): find out among your plugins the best Equalizer and the best Compressor and learn how to use them perfectly and how they behave, then make them your hammer and chisel; they are our main tone shaping tool, and we must use to clean up the unwanted frequences and give body and weight to our sounds. Using only one type of Comp and Eq in our project is another way to add coherence and making the final result less dispersive and distracting.

5) Refocus by using Bypass: as stated in the linked article, every time we add a plugin, before deciding whether to leave it or not we need to make a test; the test consists in listening to the song with all the tracks together (not in solo), while turning on and off the plugin. If we hear an improvement we keep it, if it sounds worse or if we don't notice anything different, we remove it.
Just by removing the plugins that doesn't add anything, the mix will sound much cleaner and more focused.

I hope this was helpful!

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