This past weekend I mixed a track for one of my clients. It was a particularly dense mix – 100 tracks to be exact.
Talk about trying to establish mix clarity!
You know the deal. Lots of overlapping tracks? Pull out the old Channel EQ and start carving out some space. How else are you going to get all those tracks to hang together?
It can be a struggle to get that many sounds to gel together. And we get stuck in the weeds of a muddy mix, we begin to complicate the process even more. For example:
- Examining fundamental frequencies
- Looking for meters that show overlapping frequencies
- Try to identify where the frequencies are along a piano scale
Can I be honest? I don’t think about any of this stuff when I’m mixing.
Audio is, at the end of the day, a technical field. No doubt about that. But there’s just too much information you have to try and remember.
Is a fundamental frequency important? Sure! But here’s my question – are we making music or solving a math problem?
Personally, I just couldn’t keep up with trying to solve my mixes by way of an abacus. Instead, I chose to hone a handful of key principles when I sit down to mix.
Does that mean I chose not to use any EQ for this client’s mix?
Not at all.
BUT – I did make it a point to pause before reaching for the Channel EQ.
Instead, I spent the first 2 hours balancing the mix with just the faders and pan pots.
That’s 2 hours of using the most basic mix tools we have at our disposal. And the results can be quite surprising.
Setting the Stage With the Static Mix
Are you still with me? Trust me, I know. Faders are like the least sexiest thing in the Audio Kingdom.
Something as simple as a Fader can’t possibly amount to the mountain of decibels that EQ can do for you.
Or can it…?
I’ve got a challenge for you:
Open your most recent Logic Project. Now take any track in the mix, and reduce it’s level by -3 dB. My first recommendation would be a vocal track.
How does it sound?
I’ll bet that the track sounds muffled. Perhaps even masked by the overlapping frequencies of the other instruments.
Now take that same track, and boost it +3 dB from it’s original fader position. Now how does it sound now…?
By any chance does it sound overpowering? Like it’s masking some of the other instruments in your mix?
Volume is freaking tricky. Just by adjusting the level of a track you can totally change how you perceive it in the mix.
Which is why the value of a fader cannot be overstated.
I think everyone recognizes that faders and pan pots are crucial for mixing. No question there!
It’s just they feel too simple to have any significant impact.
Funny how that works. How the simpler the solution, the more deceiving it feels.
And I would totally agree. But a static mix – that is, starting a mix with just the faders and pan pots – can solve quite a bit.
First, check out this week’s video above. It’s pretty staggering how a track can go from muddy to open and clear just by adjusting levels.
Then before you get started, I suggest the following:
- Save a copy of your Project by going to File > Save A Copy As…
- Use Bounce in Place to convert your Instrument and Drummer tracks to Audio Files
- Power Down and Hide your Instrument and Drummer tracks
First, you want to treat the mix process as it’s own, separate phase from the writing phase. By creating a Copy of your Project and bouncing your MIDI tracks, you’re preparing yourself for the mix phase.
Second, by bouncing your tracks in place you’ll be able to do the next steps:
- Select all the regions in your Project
- Go to Functions > Normalize Region Gain…
Don’t worry! We’re not committing any mixing crimes here, as this isn’t a permanent process.
Instead, we’re going to quickly adjust the gain of every region to be more comparable to each other.
In the the Normalize Gain window that pops up, set the following values:
Then click Apply. Logic will now magically adjust the gain of every region in your Project based on Loudness. The beauty of this process is now your tracks are comparable to each other in relative loudness!
Why is this important? When you’re in the writing phase, you’re not too concerned with levels, right? Drag a loop in here, lay some Vintage Electric Piano there. And then record some bass.
The issue is that your loops probably plenty loud. But your bass region is a tiny sliver:
When you start to mix, you’ll need to take the Loop’s fader down quite a bit, and jack up the bass’ fader:
By adjusting the region gain of all your regions, you won’t need to make such sever adjustments. You’ll have more throw available for boosting or reducing on your faders.
(Throw meaning the available space you have before you hit the absolute top or bottom of the fader.)
Then when you sit down to mix your next track, give yourself 30 minutes to an hour to just play with levels and panning.
Yes, seriously. 30 – 60 minutes.
Give it a try and just see how it works for your mixes. Yes, faders and pan pots are simple tools. But that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a monumental purpose.
In fact, my pals over at Mastering the Mix have just released a tool that can help you improve your fader balancing techniques right now. Ultimate Producer is an interactive tool for improving your production skills.
Ultimate Producer’s first tool, Balancing Channels, gives you the chance to balance faders with a supplied mix. And as you test your fader-balancing skills, Balancing Channels will let you know immediately how you did. Try out Balancing Faders right now below:
Jamie Wedel says
What a fantastic tip, can’t wait to try it. I’m a newbie to Logic and home recording but this is fascinating and will helpfully help build the foundation for me to record some guitar covers.
Glad to help Jamie!
Gordon Root says
Chris, your explanation is crystal clear, and extremely helpful. You are not only an excellent sound engineer, but a fantastic teacher too! I look forward to learning more from your videos! I cringe when I realize that there are actually 100 tracks in this song. Well, sometimes you drag a song to the finish line; other times, it sort of drags you (and I’m not altogether sure which is which, or which is better). But, I am truly grateful for the outstanding work you have done on this one!
Thanks Gordon! And I love the fact that you went to town with this song. Many modern productions are much like your own project. Just take a look at the Beck demo project included in Logic 🙂
Great job writing such a fun song!
Charles Moore says
A super-informative and useful post as always, Chris.
1. IMHO one can’t over-emphasize the importance of old-school back-to-basics (faders, etc). As an almost-newb, initially I had no other way to clean up my mixes *except* balancing levels after a bit of EQ, and later using compression (not easy to hear until you’re attuned to it). So I suppose that was a good thing.
2. Speaking of old-school, I heard about a Dimmer volume toggle for reducing playback volume [say, to 40% of your typical playback volume]. By simulating this, it forced me to “hear better” – more acutely. Further proof that basic, unsexy tools remain powerful.
3. Did not know about Normalization – wow. Huge for me.
4. A/B-ing audio is also huge for an almost-newb. As part of supporting a back-to-basics “unsexy is the new sexy” movement (a bit like sanity ultimately prevailing to end the Loudness Wars?) a round-up of tools and methods for A/B-ing might be interesting. Could even work in creating/using Reference mixes, LPX’s Match EQ feature (I haven’t a clue about this but fascinating) and Dimming.
As always, many thanks for your hard work and generous sharing. Keep up the fine work.
Charles Moore says
Chris, I’m curious — what will Normalization do to existing volume automation? If you have precisely-tweaked passages does it keep the automation?
(I suppose I could test this myself on a copy of a project…)
Hey Charles, all Automation will remains in tact. The Region again adjustments come before any fader adjustments.
However, I suggest using a Region Normalization when you’re first starting a mix. Might upset your mix balance to use Region Normalization when you’re 80% of the way through a mix!
Did you make use of reference tracks to set the relative volumes ?
Hey Nico! I did not. Usually I set the level of my reference tracks in relation to my static mix level. I also use Mastering the Mix’s great Reference plug-in, which adjusts gain automatically for my References (again, to the static mix.)
Shawn Upadhyaya says
hey chris! what was that tutorial which you say what to do if a mix is coming out with too much treble?!
This is phenomenal! I had no idea that Logic came out with this feature either. I can’t wait to try this at the start of my next project!
Stoked to share this new feature with you Corey!
What a sweet feature.
Seriously, this is why I subscribe to WLPR. No one else puts out content regarding LPX that is this good. This is the kind of in-depth detail that demonstrates just how flexible and powerful LPX is and why it continues to dominate the platform.
Chris is awesome at bringing these ‘nuggets of gold’ to the forefront so that LPX users can become power users.
Its worth mentioning that Universal Audio’s new videos even feature LPX as the DAW.
Thanks so much Jimmy! I appreciate it 🙂
Danny Leftridge says
If normalize region gain isn’t in our function drop down menu, how do we add it?
David Bilides says
Hey, Chris: Bought your mixer course, and it’s been a ton of help, even though my music is in a very different genre. Thanks so much. (Wiring here because I don’t see a place to write you about the course within it.)
Question: When you normalize your regions to -23 or -18, are your monitors already calibrated, so that you can switch to that level (a la BOb Katz)? Otherwise, what do you use to set levels?
Suggestion: use software to highlight your cursor moves, e.g., something that enlarges, puts a circle around it, colors it, etc. The resolution of the cursor is pretty small, and you can move quickly, so i sent some time trying to locate the cursor to see what process you used for checking things out, setting up things, etc.
Thanks again for all your hard work. I very much appreciate it.