Over the first four instalments of these workshops, we created a complete song in Studio One. Now it’s time to mix it to make it sound like a million dollars…
OK we have a song! Over the first four parts of these PreSonus Studio One tutorials we explained the basics of the software and how to create tidy arrangements, working towards a complete song.
We have just that and now we are ready to mix it, to hopefully create a professional-sounding piece of music. The mix process really does add this pro sheen. By getting levels right, spreading the music out correctly in the stereo spectrum and adding depth with EQ, you should end up with a great-sounding track with a full dynamic; one that uses every space in almost three sonic dimensions.
Mixing is all about letting your music breathe in these dimensions, so first of all you should adjust the levels to try and allow everything to be heard. Then it’s onto panning to move things around the stereo spectrum and fill that space between speakers. Next, we move on to EQ to fill the dynamic range with clear basses and shimmering trebles.
We’ll start by looking at levels. Our advice when mixing is to pull everything back, and that means your monitor/speaker levels too. You might end up mixing for very long sessions, so you’ll want to monitor at low levels to give your ears a rest. By all means have an occasional blast, but generally keeping things low is good. And always take regular breaks, as listening to the same track over and over can make you tired in the brain as well as the ears.
Within your DAW keep levels peaking at -6dB and, perhaps obviously, keep everything out of the red. But do listen, rather than constantly look. DAWs are great at presenting your mixes back to you in all of those colours we chose last time around, but it’s best to mix with your ears more than your eyes, so feel free to turn your computer monitor off once in a while and just listen very carefully.
Panning is the next dimension to explore, and here you tend to leave the main vocal and all of the bassier parts in the middle and spread everything else. Keep potentially clashing parts – such as those two acoustic guitar parts – away from each other in this way by panning one left and one right. Do the same with backing vocals and make sure the main vocal can be heard above them. The diva is centre stage for a reason!
We then move onto EQ and demonstrate how this can accentuate certain sounds in the mix without needing to drive their levels. As with panning, you are trying to fill the space, but this time it’s the frequency range rather than the stereo spread.
As a general rule you’ll want to roll the bass off most the parts, bar the actual bass sounds, unless you have a bass-less mix (such as an acoustic guitar/vocal track). This avoids the bassier parts of, say, a keyboard sound, clashing with the more vital bass from a bass guitar.
In the next and final part, we’ll explore more EQ mixing tips and how some effect can also lift your mixes in Studio One. Until then, happy mixing!
How To Mix Your Track in Studio One 4: step-by-step
1. First things first, listen out for levels. Anything distorting? In general, it’s better to listen rather than look at your mix, but there can be tell-tale signs that things aren’t right, such as red peaking on tracks and the output. Time to pull everything back.
2. If you mix at low levels you’ll be doing your ears a favour, but engineers often recommend pulling everything back to peak at -6dB to leave some headroom for the mastering engineer – the next process after mixing where you get a real pro sheen to your sound.
3. Adjust levels so nothing is too prominent and so you can hear everything. This is simply the first level adjustment. We’ll be coming back around to this constantly, especially after the next phase.
4. Panning allows you to place each track in the stereo field. In general, bass, kick and all low frequency sounds stay central. This can cause issues with sounds sitting on top of one another but don’t worry, we’ll return to this.
5. The popular ‘imagine it’s a band on stage’ theory can apply here as you separate all of your tracks, or players, as you would looking at a band on stage. Guitarists playing to the left and right of the vocalist? Well let’s place our guitar parts as such.
6. We’ve got two keyboard parts and as they both occupy a similar frequency in terms of their sound, we’ll move them left and right too, so they don’t clash. Not as extreme as the guitarists but experiment with both. If it sounds good, it is good!
7. We’ve added some vocalists. Again the lead vocalist sits in the middle and you could group the backing vocalists either side or, as we’ve done, slightly to the left and right.
8. From that we’ve created a very rough arrangement by deleting parts so that the song gradually comes in and out, and then created rough verses and choruses. It’s quite short at the moment, but PreSonus Studio One has a great feature to make creating a song from this.
9. Use the Mute and Solo buttons to bring tracks in and out or check groups of similar sounds against one another. Here we have just the guitars solo’d to check they are ok.
10. In our mix, the programmed drums track is still sounding weak so we’re going to bring in a touch of EQ, which will boost it and make it more prominent. Again, solo and un-solo it to hear the effect. We’ve nudged up both the low and mid frequencies to hear more of the kick and snare.
11. We’ve done the same thing with the vocal. Rather than pushing the volume, we’ve simply nudged the EQ up at around 1.5kHz to make it stand out more from the backing vocals.
12. Finally, we’ve applied the same thing to the Lead sound, taking the bass down a little (as a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to reduce the bass on most instruments so they don’t clash with the bass parts) and nudged it up at around 1.7kHz.