As we come to the final stages of our freeware feature and start wrapping your project up, we focus on arranging and mixing of your track in Tracktion 6…
Arranging and mixing
Our final tutorial (see bottom of the article) looks at the mix, but before we get on to that, we show how to put together a very rudimentary arrangement, simply by copying and pasting the clips we have created. We give the arrangement a gentle build of an intro, with the kick drum underpinning things.
Then we move onto the mix and Tracktion 6 is unusual in that a complete mixer is not supplied as standard. Instead, each track cleverly has volume and pan controls built into it, which you simply click on for the relevant up/down (for volume) and left/right (for pan) faders that appear when you click on the box within the track.
The order of the effects and instruments placed in these track boxes is important. The instruments need to be placed after the volume controls in order for them to do anything. Ours didn’t at first, as we’d placed them after. It’s easy to drag all of the items in the track around simply by hovering over what you want to move and allowing the drag hand to appear.
You’ll need to do some level mixing and panning before you get too far into the mix – the kick drum we chose was bold, to say the least. Panning should be done with some subtlety. The last thing you want is for everything to be panned hard left and right. Be gentle and try to keep a good spread of sounds that don’t sit on top of one another.
As far as mix effects go in the tutorial, we use some from our Fantastic Four freeware effects and some from Tracktion 6’s extensive collection – well, they are technically freeware plug-ins, after all, as the DAW is free! We use the effects both creatively – to often dramatically alter the sound – and more subtly.
Mix effects like compression and EQ are very important, even though they might not be as in-your-face as a distortion plug-in. What they do is allow you to move elements of your mix away from each other if they are clashing. For example, rather than just increasing the volume of your kick drum to make it stand out, you should EQ out some of the elements in your mix that are clashing with it. It’s all part of making your mix more three dimensional – think of it in space, depth and frequency.
There isn’t the space to touch on more of the creative side of the mixing process but we have included several freeware effects that can really help you experiment with your sounds and, frankly, mess them up. We used FuzzPlus 3 on our snare sound, for example, and combined with Tracktion’s automation features, you can really use it to great effect, gradually opening up its frequency and resonance dials for some sonic drama.
Obviously, the arrangement now needs fleshing out as, for the purposes of this tutorial, we have kept it very basic (and short) simply to show you how parts can be mixed together and the role of the freeware effects in this process.
We should also mention some mastering possibilities too, where you end up with a more professional and balanced mix and, guess what, there are plenty of freeware effects to help us do this too, including a couple in our Fantastic Four lists that we didn’t use in the main tutorial. A1 Stereo Control can be used to add width to individual tracks and the entire mix. LVC Audio ClipShifter 2 offers brickwall limiting, that can used at the end of the mastering process.
Other plug-ins out there specifically for mastering include Baxter EQ (PC only, from varietyofsound.wordpress.com/downloads) which is designed to subtly accentuate certain frequencies in your mix and VladG Sound Limiter No.6 (Mac and PC, from https://vladgsound.wordpress.com) is another brickwall and soft limiter for the end stage of the mastering process. Finally, there are loads of utility freeware plug-ins you can find by clicking the image below.
Arranging and mixing: Step-by-step
1. Before we get into the nitty gritty of mixing our parts, we want a simple arrangement, so select everything we have manually, so we can copy it (the usual Ctrl>C).
2. We can paste this at the cursor or after the selected parts, using the pop up Clipboard menu. We chose the latter.
3. When you have a few bars’ worth of copies, strip the parts back to one or two that work together and then gradually build the song in before we start to actually mix it.
4. Starting with the levels, there’s no main mixer in Tracktion, so you click on the square icon on each track to reveal a vertical fader for volume. Click above this for a horizontal fader for pan.
5. In order to have your faders actually do anything, make sure they are placed in the right place in the channel chain, as in at the right-hand side, as in before the instrument.
6. We reduced both kick and snare and tweaked a few other levels. Then it’s time to look at the pan positions and listen out for anything that is sitting on top of something else and move it subtly away.
7. Once you are happy with your levels and pan positions, it’s time to get those freeware effects out of your virtual cupboard. Again, drag the + icon into your chosen track as you did with the instruments.
8. We’ll start with some EQ on the lead and what better than a Pultec emulation? We found the lead was starting to get lost in the mix, nothing that a little boost at 300Hz didn’t solve to give it more body.
9. With the kick, we brought our other more workhorse freeware in, ColourEQ. This allows us to hone in on specific parts of the frequency, to cut a little flab and boost at around 150Hz.
10. Of course, we can use Tracktion 6’s effects – technically, they are freeware – so turn to the software’s compressor to tighten up the kick sound. Experiment with the attack, reducing it to 25ms.
11. Identify parts of the mix that might clash in terms of frequency. We found that the VB-1 bass part was sitting just a little too closely to the kick, so we solo’d both tracks and EQd the bass away from it.
12. Just time to touch on some of the more creative effects, such as FuzzPlus 3. We put it on the snare which we’d never been happy with and recorded some automation of the Freq dial, with excellent results.
And there you have it. There’s a free plug-in for every part of the music production process – and a whole lot more. We hope we’ve opened your eyes up to the freeware world if it’s not an area you’d previously considered for your music production, and given you another angle on music making with Tracktion. Version 6 has to be the finest piece of freeware around, so you owe it to yourself to at least give that a go. Enjoy the software, enjoy the plug-ins… and most of all, enjoy that bank balance.