This article was written by Ill Soul Productions. You can check out his music on SoundCloud and follow him on Twitter.
So I'm going to share my secret with you and no its not mix better lol
The problem with a lot of amateur mixes aren't the people perse its the knowledge that is being spread around so the first thing is your going to have to pull a matrix and reprogram your mind. Everything you've been thought, seen and read is a lie. This lie has been told for a number of reasons that we don't have time to get into so just follow along.
Our generation is the software/hardware hybrid generation so we have a choice. A lot of engineers like myself chose to stay ITB, some chose all OTB and others do the hybrid setup. But blah blah blah I know you want the goods so here you go.
Itís all in the master buss processing, I will explain
Here is my master buss setup
1. Waves Aphex Aural exciter http://www.waves.com/content.aspx?id=11290
2. Brainworx Vertigo VSC-2 Quad Compressor http://www.brainworx-music.de/en/plugins/vertigo_vsc-2
3. Slate Digital VCC http://www.slatedigital.com/vcc.php
4. Izotope Ozone 5 (Imager) http://www.izotope.com/products/audi...reoImaging.asp
5. Fabfilter Pro L http://www.fabfilter.com/products/pro-l.php
Now for the explanation and secrets...
I mix into all of these while they're on. This is what a lot of the sites don't tell you that we as audio professionals do to achieve "that" sound.
You see for our generation we have to treat software like hardware because the older guys treat hardware like software (inserts, aux's). The problem is a lot of what I have going on was told to me to be bad and thus I strayed away from it until recently. My mind was opened by an engineer out in L.A. by the name of Maat Hotep whose sole purpose was to show me and others that it really is all about the sound and not how you get to it.
So let me explain why I mix into these and you'll understand my sound.
The aural exciter is just that, its giving me that top end sheen on all my mixes so i'm not boosting my high end like crazy just to get what I hear on the radio/cd/itunes/everywhere. That top end being there already helps a lot because now you can be sensible about how you boost. I leave the ax mix knob at +5 and go from there
The VS-C is the same style as the SSL buss comp from waves but better and smoother. I start it with a preset mix buss setup and leave it like that until I'm done mixing. Then I tweak it.
The VCC is my analog ITB plugin. I even started tracking through it because the consoles all have their own sound and depending on the artist it makes a noticeable difference. On the master buss because Iím an SSL buff I leave it on the SSL console with the drive at +3 so I get that extra umph. I turn it all the way up to +6 at the end of my mix to really push the music/mix over the top
The Ozone imager I started using because Chris Athens from sterling sound (the head mastering engineer there for almost 20+ years) said that the low end was always the problem area for most mixes he got because it was never focused more or less. So to solve that problem I use the imager to make everything from 300 hz down mono. I leave the other bands alone
Last is the limiter from Fabfilter. Now a lot of engineers will tell you not to put a limiter on your mixes and thatís because itís a mastering engineerís job to do that. But... your clients don't give 2 cents about why there mixes aren't as loud as the tracks they hear on the radio and that goes for professional artist who do this for a living as well (besides when it does go to mastering you can give the mastering engineer both the mix without the limiter and the mix with it so he/she can see and hear the direction you were going for ultimately). The problem for the rookie engineer isn't that they use the limiter but the fact that they don't know when to use it. I mix into the fabfilter pro L with my threshold at -3db and my ceiling at 0.03. What that does is push my tracks up in volume on my master buss which influences my mixing decisions. If you've ever put a limiter on your tracks and then the track sounded worst, it was probably the wrong limiter to use on that particular track. But if you mixed into the limiter you would have heard all those problem frequencies clearer and cut them out so when you turn the limiter up to get that extra volume out of your track there wouldn't have been any surprises.
Now all this is pointless unless you mix properly which means proper gain staging during your mixing stage. Most if not all plugins are set to -18dbfs just like there hardware counter parts and so mixing into that level wise puts you at the optimum for your plugins to work efficiently and with plenty of headroom. This ultimately leads to me turning the output stage on the aural exciter down to match the -18dbfs/0 VU meter on it, which will then give me optimal signal into the quad compressor to compress 2db of gain reduction, which will then let me decide more accurately how hard I want to hit the vcc and whether to turn the drive knob up or not from +3, which will then give correct level to the imager so the bass will sound even and tighter then when I mixed and lastly I will be able to turn the limiter threshold to -10/11/12 to get me into the -7 rms level of most commercial tracks out right now.
Thus why I didn't need to go to mastering because the track was already mastered by me without losing any of the sound I had because I controlled the quality from the beginning.
Now like I said in the beginning, it is all a lie. Ultimately the only real truth is if it sounds good it is good. The real questions aren't how to make it sound like "that" but how did such and such make it sound like "that". Engineers have a sound and we all just play follow the leader from there so improving is truly in listening to your favorite songs in the best quality you can and emulate what you hear. Don't let rules like digital distortion or being too much in the red stop you from doing what sounds right. If you don't hear the distortion on different sources then don't worry about it because the average person doesn't. If you have tracks going into the red but everything sounds fine and not distorted then keep doing what youíre doing and keep it moving. We may be audio engineers but the audio part is what people pay us for, the engineering is what we learn and apply to the audio. Now this doesn't mean that all your tracks should be in the red (thatís crazy), but they should match comfortably to your favorite tracks you like to hear. With mixing into the limiter volume is no longer an issue so now you can concentrate on the sound , feeling and emotional draw of the song, not how loud it is.
There really is a lot that went into the mixing of this particular song but a lot of that came from my years of experience being put to good use. To everyone running around with 100's of thousands of dollars worth of software what benefit is that to you if you don't know how to use it all (I mean use it all). Try using just 1 of each of your tools for 3 months like I did and you will start to understand what our forefathers went through. 1 console, 1 reverb, 1 compressor, 1 eq, 1 limiter, that's how you get better mixes. This method will ensure you that you can make great records with anything no matter how simple the tools set because even the simplest tools can make music. I also want to clarify the "lies part", I consider them lies because my results that people said were amazing came from my blatant disregard for whatís been told to me over these last 10+ years doing my job. My advice is know the rules in audio, like gain staging, the haas effect, high pass and low pass filtering, cutting and boosting, panning, tape (how to properly use tape is all in the gain staging), and even harmonic distortion. Know these inside and out while learning something new every day and I guarantee your rise as an engineer won't be as long as you think.
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