(This article is excerpted from a book TEAM CEO & Founder Gary Gray wrote titled “The Home Studio Bible.” This book is included as part of TEAM Premium Access.)
There are times when I have extremely demanding deadlines and have to get music mixed and mastered for licensing clients – RIGHT NOW, right now. In these cases, I have found 4 fast steps to mixing (I call them my “30 Minute Miracle Cure For Your Mixes”) that have given me a 99% success rate in getting tracks accepted.
NOTE: This percentage is based on the assumption that the Rhythmic aspects of your mix are solid and tight with a good groove.
1. High Pass Filter
Every mix has an “invisible” accumulation of low end frequencies that cause the final mix and master to sound “muddy” – EVEN ON HIGH FREQUENCY INSTRUMENT TRACKS. In other words, let’s say you have a hi-hat track (whether played by a live drummer or with a synth or virtual instrument). Most producers like to mix their hi-hat tracks with a nice strong crispy high end up around 5kHz to 8kHz or even higher depending on preference.
You wouldn’t think that you would need to CUT the low end of that track in order to increase the quality of your overall mix. In fact, even when you DO cut the lower frequencies (let’s say from 100Hz down to 20Hz) it’s hard to hear any big difference on that hi-hat track. Cutting those low frequencies is what a “High Pass Filter” does – it allows the High Frequencies to Pass and Cuts the Low Frequencies; thus the name High Pass Filter.
However – and here is one key Secret to great mixing – if you DON’T take all (or most) of your tracks in your mix and cut those low frequencies, a muddy sort of amateurish dull-sounding mix results.
Cut those low frequencies across the boards, and listen to the punch and the brilliance and clarity of your mix. It’s pretty amazing. And this is something you can do to your mixes IMMEDIATELY (this step is a less than 30 Minute Miracle Cure For Your Mixes)! And your Mastering Engineer (which might even be YOU!) will love you for it.
For details on how to mix the Bass and Kick track, refer to “The Lucrative Home Studio” within TEAM Premium Access.
2. The Monster At 200Hz
The next thing I do if I’m under a stressful time crunch deadline is I listen to my mix as a whole and, while doing so, I go through key instrumental and vocal tracks and, one at a time, (again, while listening to the ENTIRE mix), I adjust the EQ at around 200Hz – and usually end up cutting that frequency a bit (or more) on some of the key tracks on that song. 200Hz is another culprit frequency that can cause a muddy amateurish-sounding mix when it is too prevalent in a mix. Set your EQ so that the width of the EQ band is somewhat narrow – not too wide – and adjust away. One secret here is that once you’ve got your mouse on the EQ adjustment, close your eyes and LISTEN (Don’t watch your screen – your eyes can fool your ears) and start adjusting (I start lowering first) that 200Hz frequency band with your eyes closed until the track sounds more Pro and less muddy.
3. Quality Is Great When You Duplicate
Once I’ve done the above two steps I will immediately go to the Vocal Track, the Bass Track, The Kick Track, The Snare Track and The Hi-Hat Track and I will duplicate each one. You may have to lower the Master Fader a bit in order to allow headroom for your mix when you duplicate these tracks. You may also have to lower the volume on each track that you are duplicating (both the original track and the duplicated track) in order to create enough headroom without distortion. Once you’ve done that, you have just one more step to go in my 30 Minute Miracle Cure For Your Mixes!
4. Excellent Vocal Tracks
If I have extra time, I will route both of the vocal tracks (original and duplicate) to a group or aux track and set up an EQ, compressor, reverb and delay – in this case the order of plug-ins doesn’t matter, because I’m setting up the plug-ins in parallel – on a send/return routing rather than an insert – on an insert the order of the plug-ins in the chain matters.
If I have even more time I will do this:
Take the two vocal tracks (original and duplicated track) and duplicate them again so I now have four vocal tracks. I will keep tracks 1 and 2 of the vocals as they are. I will then take the newly duplicated tracks 3 and 4 and send them to a SEPARATE group or aux track and on that track I will place an Auto-Tune Plug-In.
For clarity’s sake, let’s call Tracks 1 and 2 – Group A. Let’s call Tracks 3 and 4 – Group B. I will take Group A and Group B and route them both to a MASTER VOCAL TRACK (an Aux or Group Channel – depending on your D.A.W. – On Pro-Tools you can use an Aux track, on Cubase you can use a Group Channel, etc).
AND NOW the Secret: I will listen to each phrase of the vocals – starting with the opening phrase of the melody – I will listen to Group A (the track WITHOUT Auto-Tune) and then compare that phrase of the melody with Group B (the track with Auto-Tune) and see which sounds better. I will then highlight and cut all four tracks with a scissors tool just before and after that phrase and MUTE THE TRACKS (Either Group A or Group B) that I don’t want – and allow the Group I DO want – to play in the mix. If you go through an entire song like this, phrase by phrase, what you end up with is a great vocal track. Certain phrases of the vocal arrangement will have no Auto-Tune on them, and certain phrases WILL have Auto-Tune on them. That way, you get the best of both worlds – you get vocals that are in tune. If the Auto-Tune creates unwanted effects, you can go with the natural sounding take.
If neither sound good, then (if possible) have those phrases re-recorded or – if you’re advanced enough – you can go in with certain plug-ins and manually fix the tuning on those certain notes.
That concludes my 30 Minute Miracle Cure For Your Mixes — how long did it take you?
Take one of your mixes and try out all four steps of the 30 Minute Miracle Cure For Your Mixes above – you will instantly hear your mixes moving closer towards commercial pro-sounding masterpiece recordings!
Think you need expensive gear to use the 30 Minute Miracle Cure For Your Mixes? Check out this article on “Smoke & Mirror” gear.
Learn more about TEAM’s training, developed by Gary Gray and Dave Kusek, here.