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: