Prior to digital audio workstations taking center stage in studios, engineers would make meticulous session notes on paper and package these notes with the master tape. The reason for this was to allow a transparent transfer between different personnel working on a project.
If you have a bass track in a mix which sounds great on big speakers but disappears completely when played on smaller speakers then here are a few tricks which can help.
Adding some distortion on the bass either via an insert effect or from a parallel bass distortion channel will add some grit and harmonics. This technique works well on dense mixes like rock for example where there is some flexibility in the bass tone.
Waves make a great plug-in and hardware box called MaxxBass (and R-Bass) which generate harmonics based on a frequency you set. These harmonics trick the ear into perceiving low bass frequencies that may not actually be present in the output. This technique works well for the most natural sounding enhancement to your original bass and ensuring translation across different sets of speakers.
A slight bit of chorus can help to make the bass pop out on smaller speakers. Send a split of the signal to a buss, EQ out the really low end (we don’t need this), and then chorus the top end of the bass. Blend to taste with the original signal.
When mixing your own material or delivering files to a mixing engineer it is helpful to make sure that your sessions are logically organized and that tracks and audio files are named correctly. This ensures that you can concentrate on the creative side of a project rather than trying to figure out what track “Audio 02” is for example.
The Producers and Engineers wing of the Grammy Foundation deserve some thanks as they have created an in-depth set of universal guidelines which cover everything from logical session naming conventions through to printable session documentation sheets and labels.
By following these guidelines you can ensure that not only will you be able to revisit a project at a later date and know exactly what is happening in the session, but that someone else can pick and and continue working on your project without problems.
When mixing it is importing to keep in mind that mixing is all about context. Something will sound loud if played in context with something that is quiet. Likewise, an element in the mix will sound wide if played in context with something that sounds narrow. With this in mind make use of panning and effects to position elements for width and depth.
For example, you might be mixing a track which which contains a lot of synthesizer sounds and you have been given the stereo outputs of all of these synths. If you pan each stereo output hard left and hard right, then ultimately you end up with everything sounding wide – as a result everything sounds narrow. This has been commonly referred to as “big mono”. What you could try instead is taking either the left or right channel and then adding your own panning and effects to position the element within the sound stage. By careful placement and keeping context in mind you can achieve a wide sounding mix.
Do you often find yourself going around in circles trying to get the perfect channel processing but never quite being able to get the sound you hear in your head? Enter parallel processing…
In the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) environment it is very easy to duplicate a track, process the duplicate, and then create a musical blend between the original and processed tracks. This will often get you to the sound you have in your head faster as well as allowing for more flexibility later on.
For example, you might have some electric guitars which sound great recorded but just need a little extra bite to poke through in the mix. Rather than trying to EQ or process the guitar track, try creating a duplicate track (or bus) for the guitars and add a guitar amp simulator to the parallel track. On the parallel track you can drive the input gain and create a sound which has all the bite you need but is “too much” by itself. If you then blend this with the original track you have the sound of the original (which was great to begin with) as well as the bite from the parallel processed track. This creates a sound which not only retains the character of the original, but also has the bite and presence to cut through the mix when needed.
Another common usage of the parallel processing technique is called parallel compression. In this example, leave the original track dry and uncompressed, and then create a parallel processed track and heavily compress it. By creating a blend between the two, you retain the punch and dynamics from the original as well as the compressed sound from the parallel track.
Have you ever wanted a vocal sound which seems to float in front of you? Here’s one way of achieving this.
1) Create an auxiliary or effect channel and put a delay on it which allows for independent left and right delay settings.
2) Delay the left by 30ms and the right by 15ms.
3) If your effects unit also allows independent pitch shift then try pitching the left up +9 cents and the right down -9 cents.
Send some of your vocal track to this auxiliary or effects channel and blend to taste. This is often to the point where you can sense that the effect is there but can’t really “hear” it working.
I like to use the Waves Doubler plug-in to achieve this effect.