Posted in : Forum : Mixing , Mastering And Production Techniques
Youve created a track but how do you give it that polished edge ? Discuss the art of mixing and mastering and swap production techniques.
I am baffled by the sound of modern music. It is something I am unable to duplicate in the studio. Take for example Evanessence the rock band. Their very famous ballad 'My immortal' sound like it has no bass, but it has bass.
I've gone through a lot of genres and a majority of the songs sound like this. They sound like the the whole song is high passed at 100-150, but the bass is just like in another dimension.
I don't have words for it. It sounds like there isn't a bass, but it also sounds like there is a bass present, meaning that you can hear the details of the song as if you turned of the bass track, but there always was base present.
It's just odd. I have a pair of cheap headphones and professional mixes sound normal in them. When I listen to some songs, it is apparent that the bass is not as loud as in them, but the bass just slaps your face, and it feels like it's fighting for space, even though it's not loud. It is a distraction.
What the heck? Why does a song seem to have no bass, yet you can hear it? Could it be a low bass with saturation on the low end?
It would probably be easier to help you achieve this sort of feel in your mixes if you explain your process more, and maybe give an example of a song you are mixing where the "bass just slaps your face."
One question - Are you mixing actual bass played by someone on a stringed instrument, or are you mixing virtual bass instruments?
Specifically to the Evanessence song you quoted. The bass doesn't kick in till about 46 seconds in. Most of the bass is provided by the piano bass notes. And the real bass is mixed softly as not to overshadow the vocal performance of this piece and mostly whole or half notes so not a particularly moving bass line. But the song doesn't really need that to work. In some songs (this one in particular) is about the vocals and the emotion from that and the music is just an accompaniment .
If you want a great mix that showcases bass. Listen to thishttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3xHMrCAwnUJudas Priest Revelations from there Nostradamus album. Ian Hill is such and underrated bassist.
Well my process is pretty simple.
1- Make arrange2- Balance the mix3- Finally effects
I try to make the arrange as good as possible so I don't have to rely on crazy compression, or crazy mixing to make it sound good. It should already sound good. I try to keep my effects simple. I use subtractive EQ, some light compression, light reverb, and minor delay.
At this point I decide I'm ready to do complementary EQ on double tracked instruments, and to feature a desired frequency on each instrument by doing small 1-3 db EQ boosts, high passing, and low passing.
Finally after all this is done I begin working on my creative mix parts such as automations, and specific delays, reverbs, etc.
I'm not gonna lie I'm afraid of mixing bass, so I only balance it, and leave for last the actual mixing of it. What goes on my bass is simple.
1- Compress some, but not too much only to keep consistency. I find my songs get muddy when I over-compress my bass as it eats up the empty spaces in between the bass strokes that I meant to have.
2- My EQ is always similar and it looks like a happy face. The idea is to cut the low lows so that the bass does not interfere with my kick's usual 60-70 hz fundamental freq, then adjust the band width to make up for the loss of bass. I do the same on the top end when I want to hear the bass strings popping more which is usually what I want too.
3- Last thing I do is add reverb to the bass. I add it just to have peace of mind, but in reality I put such little amounts I don't even hear it. I learned to put reverb on everything, but sometimes I question that specially when it comes to the bass.
Lastly I use real life direct recorded bass waves from a kontakt vst library called Scarbee whatever, then I put them through a TH3 amp simulator. So yes even though I did not personally record the bass with a bass I owned, I use real, professionally recorded bass waves.
Well that solves that.
This is by no means anything finished. It's just practice, but my bass is basically always like this, except that it would not be as loud as here.
Now compare that to Evanessence and I was busting my nuts trying to figure it out. I know it's not a fair comparison, but I've heard music like that short track of mine that you cannot hear the bass, but it punches somehow. If I lower that bass line in my lil track it loses it's punch.
That is a 2 year old mystery I havent been able to solve.
I don't know if I imagine things, but my basses always seem to be different from anything I hear.
I Will check out the example you provided later on. I appreciate you giving me a breakdown of what you do.
As far as the bass specific thing goes... Do you compress first in the chain?
Regarding the reverb... I virtually never place reverb on bass, and I have some belief that many of your problems stem from this. Is there a reason you are putting reverb on your bass?
You say that "you only balance" the bass to begin with. What exactly do you mean by this? Balance is a lot of what mixing is, so I'm unsure what you consider to be balancing but not mixing.
By balancing I mean tweaking the volumes, and/or panning. There is no reason at all I'm putting reverb on the bass really. It's an old move of mine, but due to lack knowledge I didn't know if I should have or not.
I just followed an old rule I learned to always put reverb on every track, but I really had my doubts about it. To me putting reverb on a bass is like stepping on a cockroach and spreading it's guts all over my floor. It's just a mess so I used little, but then again for no reason. Just following a rule I learned years ago.
Reverb on everything is a no no no for me. Unless it's a solo bass thing or a jazz record I never use reverb on bass. It just takes away the definition of the bass as well as any fine details the bass player might have put in while performing.
Try adding a compressor, pretty slow attack, medium to fast release, doing about 7-10dB or reduction and then add an EQ before the compressor and boost away, you can get a lot of definition and low end punch this way while keeping everything under control with the compressor.
And the bass doesn't always need to go down to 30Hz...it can be heard if you boost enough midrange or add some distortion.
I've uploaded a small section of a song. Check out the bass sound and tell me what frequency range do you think it covers. Especially where does it start in the frequency spectrum.
And no it's not a master or a finished work. I just added a limiter to boost the volume.
I agree with Mahloo regarding reverb. In the mixing stage, I am very picky about what I add reverb to. Sometimes I don't add it to anything at all.
With a sampled bass instrument, there could even be natural reverb present, depending on how the instrument was sampled. This would be far better than adding additional reverb (possibly with a different timing even).
You mentioned tweaking volumes and panning. To me, these two are the essential steps to a good mix, and are definitely the essence of mixing. Since you seem to think of using processors as mixing instead, maybe you should try limiting or removing all of your processors... then go ahead and adjust levels and pan. Use all your effort to get a great sounding mix this way first. Then any processing will be "icing on the cake" , and like cake can be used sparingly.
Thanks so much for the reverb information guys.
Cool song clip you got there. Oh boy that sounds phat. I'm not gonna lie, but this is a wild guess. Bass is at a boosted 60 hz? I will give a shot to that compressor setting of yours.
One common problem I got in my mixes is that if that in their raw form they don't sound the greatest. Some guys raw products sound like it's been mixed. Mine tend to sound dull as heck. I got this one song that has strings, electric guitars, piano, bass, and drums. Even after panning and balancing volumes it sounds muffled A LOT!. My strings got a little bit of dullness, the guitars too, the piano, and when they all clash I get a mudfest going on. I've never started with a mix that never needed EQ processing unless it was a minimal arrange which I dont do lol.
To me it's either full band or nothing.
Thank you for the replies guys. I'm gonna have to correct the way I mix with reverb.
@Zergmaster - Believe it or not but the bass is highpassed around 50Hz and it has about 7dB's of boost around 300Hz, 8dB's of boost around 800Hz, 8dB's of boost around 1.5kHz and an 8dB high shelf cut starting from 5kHz up. Follow by a 1176 compressor doing between 7-10dB's of reduction. That's all.
The main problem for your dull sounding mixes is the lack of high end. Most tracks are pretty dark to begin with and while they might sound good when they are all playing in the daw and you might have a great balance to start with but once you export the mix and stack it up against modern music you will notice that everything else sounds brighter and punchier. Don't be afraid of big boosts or cuts. There are no rules.
I do not know how much this will be helpful and relevant especially regarding to the mixing matters discussed in details above but my opinion is that using quality instruments is what makes the difference. Evnescence productions were recorded on real instruments and it is very ridiculous to expect to come up with similar effects using virtual equipment. Let us take the opening piano section from 'My immortal' - notice how much of natural harmonics are there, not mentioning the natural 'feel' of the performance itself. It would be very hard to emulate this. How you could possibly create that natural resonance of the piano body for example? Even best quality sample based pianos for Kontakt sound artificial and dull compared to the real acoustic piano. Same with bass and so.
Regarding to 'dullness': I think many of virtual instruments provide that kind of additional harmonics which is due to their obvious low sound quality I guess. There is no way to 'upgrade' the low quality.The other thing is that there is a strictly written orchestration before coming to recording and performance level - just see the passage of 'My Immortal' whith strings and notice how very detailed the actual composition is.
To me the 'problem' has nothing to do with actual mixing or mastering - it is all about arranging and performance and that is the confusion I think. In a real recording situation the instruments will simply occupy it's proper place (depending of the quality of the composition and the performance of course). I think you overestimate the importance of post-processing at this point.
I do agree that there isn't actual BASS is there. There is a confusion because you can hear 'chord progressions' and obviously there is a bassline as any possible chord has always it's actual 'bass note'. So there is a 'bassline' played on the piano or bass guitar anyway.
Plus one to Promenade2239's comment... real instruments make all the difference!
It would be nice if we could always use real instruments and great players. A dull or dark sound doesn't come from a virtual instrument. a Performance can be dull but that's entirely different.
Believe it or not a raw recording does sound dull, it just doesn't have enough high end or low end, it can sound muddy regardless how well you track it. Sure the quality may vary and if the recording engineer knows a thing or two you end up with a great sounding fader up mix (a mix where you use just the faders and pan pots to set a static mix) but to be honest automation is where it's at along with careful eq and compression settings. As I've said it so many times there are no rules in mixing and todays standards require pretty hyped eq curves. So did yesterdays standards but the thing is nowadays the track counts are getting ridiculous compared to the numbers of tracks in a song that people used some 20 years ago.
Anyways use whatever suits the song as it's mostly about the feel of the song cause nobody will say "damn that trilian vst bass guitar sounds great in this track"
As for EQ..don't be shy about boosts and cuts.
I've noticed you've posted your processing order. May I add that you need to readjust your balance after every step? Meaning that once you have a ruff balance and you like it you will start to eq, after you've equed you need to rebalance the stuff cause it will sound different. After compression again you might need to adjust some of the EQ you had before that compressor and then readjust your balance etc. And once you're happy with the overall tone you will need to start moving those faders around from section to section. It's the only way to get a great and balanced mix from my point of view.
Don't be afraid to go to extremes but constantly bypass the processing and check if you are doing a good thing or you are just adding stuff that does more harm than good. Mixing is not a set and forget job.
AS for the evanescence track...piano and strings can be very easily sampled and used very convincingly as a virtual instrument. It's been done in various orchestral works in movies. Some big names use virtual instruments and people are ready to say they are listening to an actual orchestra when it's a virtual instrument.
Just my 2c.
Zerg, you should really link to the track page, and not the list of track page!
You have your bass centered at a very low frequency and you have reverb on it. It would very obviously be in the background that way. Big tip big tip big tip... an instrument does not need to be a "bass" to be heard as a "bass". . .
There is low frequency everywhere, you just need to give it focus for it to be heard.
Thanks everyone. All very interesting points indeed, and I really appreciate every comment. I have a lot of thinking to do about all of this. For the moment I have to go to work but I'll be back.
I am not very knowledgeable in technical terminology of equalizing and mastering matters but again I think that the arrangement is what it is all about in this case. For example: if someone plays a bassline in octaves in the left hand on the piano there may be also a clashing with the actual 'bass' (if there is another actual instrument playing the bassline same time). Bass and piano can play both a bassline in unison and it may sometimes work well too but it is again a matter of a skillful performance, communication between musicians and advanced compositional vision. By arranging for let's say piano and strings, when both instruments 'perform' same notes we come up with simply an overlayered, 'dull' sound - quite charactristic for midi music. There are truly some limitations when comes to midi music because it will be always only a midi music.
My point is that there is actually nothing to improve in terms of equalization and stuff if there is no quality recording at the first place. No matter how many plugins we add and how complex the processing is it will be still a programmed midi music and that's perfectly fine. I agree that there are no very strict rules and the experimentation might be the way sometimes (which I do a lot).
Fixing performance issues (including harmonic clashings between virtual instruments) by removing unwanted frequencies using filtering sounds silly to me.
If you search for 'Evanescence making of' phrase on YT you'll find that the vocalist is a piano player and the band uses real instruments. I guess Hans Zimmer is programming midi too but he can actually write/compose true orchestral pieces and his soundtracks were performed by real orchestra. I think that the understanding how music actually works is way much more important from just 'mixing' the midi music. It is simply not a correct point to start, in my opinion.
Had a listen to your track (and this isn't a criticism as I know it was just an exercise) it sounds very flat and lifeless, not so much in the progressions but the actual sounds, there's no timbre or dynamics just on off on sounds, I have to agree with Promenade it's the sound source that's the major issue as far as I'm concerned, take for example a recorded acoustic guitar or acoustic bass if it'd done right it can sound superb on it's own without any post production whatsoever, whereas a midi generated instrument is always going to sound inferior by comparison.
I agree with you Planetjazzbass. It's extremely difficult to mimic that in midi, so I yoloed it ha. I'd prefer live, but I only play the keyboard :/ and lack the equipment to even learn to play some, and record it.
I agree with you too promenade I've actually gone back to my arrange in the past because of your previos comments about over layering and got better results, then mixed. This practice I posted however was yoloed lol.
As in "you only live once?" Why would this feeling not make you want to go straight to the source for your sound? (real instruments) Maybe just I do not share this "yolo" sentiment, so it is difficult to understand the context.
In my region it is also used as a replacement for 'whatever' or something that you don't care too much for at the moment, or maybe it's not that important to you, so you just do whatever the heck you want.
It's something along those lines. In all seriousness the only reason I would live record is so that I don't have to do so much work with articulation automation. The sound might be slightly different live. To me it's like having to decide between an orange and an apple. They are both different, but I like to eat both, so I'd go for what I crave at the moment.
I don't know I just don't share the same sentiment. Midi or real, I never really thought about it. It was a non-existent issue to me, so I don't have a real emotion/opinion/preference towards it.
Imagine an EDM producer. They produce computer music. I see myself as a producer who produces computer music, but that uses digital versions of real instruments, instead of a bunch of synths.
Once my songs are ready and I post them you'll see. It goes something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydwCHbFwqAo though I have a different style that is not metal.
So this is a played bass line. But the Bass is a Synth Bass from the KorgMS2000 that I played with a liberal usage of the Pitch Bend. Also it breaks the bass rules in that there are 2 bass lines and they are not centered and they have a ton of verb and delay on them. They work because the bass line is actually carrying the melody in this tune and the other instruments as well as percussion are just accompaniments to the bass line. So that's another different example and in this example the effects were placed on before the recording and not after (A la David Bowie, Tony Visconti production style) There is more than one way to skin a cat.
So, Zergmazter, this is only meant as a helpful reply, and nothing meant to be insulting. (Trying to get in the habit of this, as I tend to offend people when I'm not trying)...
Considering your interpretation of the word "yoloed" and the tone of the original post of yours, I can't help but wonder. What I mean, is that if you are making a song or a mix, and you are essentially thinking "whatever," then it seems only natural that you will not achieve the results you are looking for.
If on the other hand, we take "yoloed" to be related to the idea of "you only live once," then it follows that you should dig as deep as possible to reach your musical goals. Performing real instruments could only deepen your experience of writing music. If you consider that there is only one life in which to do it, then why wait?
"I don't know I just don't share the same sentiment. Midi or real, I never really thought about it. It was a non-existent issue to me, so I don't have a real emotion/opinion/preference towards it."
This makes me wonder if you have ever played a non-software instrument before. To me, the comparison "an orange and an apple" applies far more to the difference/similarity of sample based virtual instruments and virtual synthesizers, than it does to comparing nearly any virtual instrument to it's concrete playable counterpart. "Virtual reality" is a contradiction.
I yoloed that short practice audio clip, which meant I didn't care about the final overall mix outcome as I was focusing my energy on EQing the guitar (Guitar Practice), but my basses sound similar to that clip even though I didn't put much effort on it.
Yes I've played the keyboard since I was 9, 10, or 11 I cant remember accurately, and Im 30 now. To tell you the truth I dont know what to tell you.
I dont mind midi vs real as long as it does the chord progression it was intended for it to do, with its corresponding dynamics.
Let me see if I can give you an insight about how I perceive art:
Lets talk about wine. I went to culinary school and took advanced wine classes. There are so many things to wine. Acidity, viscosity, sweetness, bitterness, dryness, and so on.
They can teach you the meaning of the concepts in words, but they cannot make you feel/taste the concepts. It is something you must grow with, or learn through the years if its something you really CARE about.
Naturally for me and a lot of people we could only tell if a wine was sweet, bitter, or how much alcohol content it had. Everything else was a foreign emotion to us.
Now the question comes, do we really CARE enough to feel/sense/taste the other spectrum a glass of wine can have? Why should we care?
Those are very personal questions and everyone will have a different answers to them.
To me wine is about its sweetness, bitterness, and alcohol percentage in it. Its just something that taste better than beer and something a bit more classy for a dinner. I enjoy wine solely for those reasons. The other spectrum of it is just boring, and seems irrelevant in my eyes, because of why I consider wine is fun. This does not mean those other things are irrelevant, they just dont serve a purpose in why I think wine is fun, and become more like a tedious shore trying to taste or feel something I consider irrelevant to my fun. This is something you are born with. It is part of who you are and your personality. As a result people like me will be literally numb to those feelings, and the only way to unlock them is if you cared enough.
Caring is a personal choice, and there is no right or wrong. Some people really wanna care because they feel like they are missing on something. Some cant find a reason to care, because their needs are being met, and their reasons to enjoy that glass of wine are different from the person who cares about the other not so visible spectrum.
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