Okay, by now we are assuming you’ve got your head around how you get sounds into your sequencer,
generate them from within it, or use sample packs. The next stage is to arrange them and mix them
together. Arranging is simply the process of how your song develops over time, usually with an intro
followed by verses and choruses. Discussing the different aspects of arrangement depends on the
genre you are working within, but mixing is a subject that we can cover, albeit on a simple level, right
here and right now.
Try to think of your song mix in two dimensions: how it spreads across the stereo spectrum (left to right
across your speaker f headphones) and how it spreads across the frequency range (think bottom-bass,
top-treble). Generally speaking, having a good spread in both dimensions is the key. You don’t want a
too bass-heavy mix, In the same way that you don’t want everything just coming out of the left speaker.
In terms of stereo placement, the panning controls in your sequencer’s track channels allow you to
place each track anywhere between far left and far right. The rule is: the bassier the track, the more
central it is – so basslines tend to sit in the middle of the stereo spectrum, acting as the backbone of the
track. The vocal can sit close to it, as it’s higher frequency allows the vocal to still be apart from the bass
and this is a rule you can follow (although you don’t have too): instruments can sit with each other in the
same stereo position as long as their frequencies don’t clash too much. Feel free to experiment though,
move things around and if it sounds good, it is good. Don’t be afraid to EQ certain parts of a track to
make them sit better and not clash with other parts.
Effects for Mixing
As well as virtual instruments, most sequencers come packed with stacks of virtual effects, many of
which you can use in the mixing process. We’ve discussed how EQ can lift or lower the impact of
certain elements in a mix. Effects such as reverb can make parts of your mix sound as if they’ve been
recorded in different rooms and spaces such as town-halls and cathedrals.
Moe creative effects include amp simulators that can be, for example, applied to acoustic guitar tracks
to make them sound electric. In fact, guitar effects like these are very common, so expect to see
tremolos, distortion and flangers. Like virtual instruments, virtual effects replicate pretty much every
hardware unit ever made (and in many cases not made). Imagine anything you can do to a sound and
that effect will be available as one of the virtual ones that ship with your DAW or from third-party
KRK Rokit RP5 G3 Active Studio Monitors Kit - Cables and Isolation Pads Included
The KRK Rokit series is a popular choice for monitoring music
RULE! Buy the best monitors you can afford. They are arguably the most important items in your
That’s quite a claim but its also a true one. There’s no use spending thousands on audio interfaces,
channel strips, sequencers, effects and external instruments if you’re going to listen to the results of
your music production through a pair of tin cans tied to a piece of string. General rule: the cheaper the
speakers, the more coloured they are, i.e they are enhanced in certain frequency ranged to create the
illusion that they are better than they really are.
Sub-£100 computer speakers, for example often have their bass response extended so they sound like
beefier and bigger monitors. Trouble is, when you ix on monitors like this you, your bass might sound
good on them but as soon as you play the resulting mix on another set of less bass-enhanced
speakers, the results will almost definitely sound weedy – because you will have lowered the bass
mixing on bass heavy monitors.
Think of it this way: those cheaper monitors are lying to you. What you really need are monitors that
don’t lie, monitors that are brutally honest. Good monitors reveal exactly what your mix sounds like.
They translate everything you do in your sequencer exactly. You will be able to hear the result of that
enhancement and pinpoint effect it has on the rest of your mix.
So honesty is key, and as you’ve probably guessed, honesty costs. Yes the more you pay, the more
honest your monitors will be. That being said you don’t need to go out and spend thousands of pounds
on monitors to get good results. Studio standards can range from £250 to £700 and an ever increasing
number of producers are mixing their tracks through studio headphones which can range from £50 to
Audio Mastering can be a controversial subject.
According to many experienced mastering engineers, you aren’t going to master mastering unless
you’ve been in it for at least thirty years. It’s certainly not, something, they would say, that beginners
should even consider. But we disagree… to a certain extent, anyway. Mastering is certainly something
that you should be aware of at the mixing stage of your music production, and if you want to give it a go,
it’s best to learn about the ‘dark art’ by getting hands-on and giving it a go. But what exactly is it?
The mastering process begins as the mixing process ends. It’s what takes that mix and delivers the final
‘master’ of the track to the end user, possibly via CD or MP3, so it takes account fades, track length,
and codes, and noise reduction. But aside from these more technical issues, it is a process that uses
EQ, compression and stereo spreading to make your mix sound more commercial and ‘pro’. It begins
once you are happy with your mix – happy that everything is in the right place, that everything is Eq’d to
perfection and that the mix sounds good on several systems. On of the first rules of mastering is have
some of your favourite commercial mixes by your favoured artists loaded into your DAW ready to A-B
with your track. You might as well aim for the top and this is an instant way to hear how your mastering
process is developing by doing direct comparisons with the ‘real thing’.
So what is the process? You have your stereo mix and the first stage of mastering is generally to EQ
and compress – and this is where it gets a little controversial. When you do any processing at this stage
remember you are thinking about the whole mix, not just parts of it.
So, if you think that you need to add bass to your bassline at this stage, it’s too late, this should have
been done at the mix stage. EQing at this stage is more subtle: to add a shimmer at the high end or a
sparkle to mids but to do these actions across the whole track, not parts of it.
Compression is all about gently compressing certain elements within a mix, so the whole thing can be
lifted with limiting. You are not trying to crush the mix and then simply make it louder, otherwise you’ll be
entering the ‘loudness war’ – which have seen mixes get ever louder, but not necessarily better – over
recent years. A great master is not just loud, it is full and dynamic, it has highs and lows, impact and
punch. So compress carefully and drive the input of your limiter for extra impact.
The final aspects of mastering include possible noise reduction (used less these days as people mix
inside their computers, so any noise is reduced at the mix stage or simply doesn’t exist as everything is
done within the digital environment) and stereo spreading. Again, it’s best to use this latter process
subtly and sparingly, as much of the stereo spread should have been dealt with at the mix stage and
most of your instruments will have been placed carefully here, so if you start pushing them further it may
just be too much. Which is the overall rule of mastering – Be subtle when mastering; don’t increase
everything just for the sake of it and never master to make it simply louder.
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