Dancing Astronaut Studios: Episode 3: Mixing Techniques and the Mix Buss
Welcome back to Dancing Astronaut Studios with Dubspot! I took some extra time to prepare this edition owing to the week I spent off the grid at Burning Man. While I didn’t make any progress in my Dubspot Online lessons over the course of that week, I did listen to a wide range of inspiring music and test drove many of my own Sicarii productions in my performances there. As always, hearing how my tracks stacked up against professional recordings struck home just how vital the mixing and mastering stages can be.
Over the past few weeks, we have been examining a wide range of mixing techniques that can easily complement each other, demystifying an otherwise complicated process. One valuable takeaway has been the understanding that there is not merely one correct approach when it comes to achieving balance in a mix.
Varying genres call for differences between the relative levels of elements. For example, my Dubspot instructor Daniel Wyatt, who is renowned for his work in hip-hop, told us that retaining the percussive nature of low end elements and focusing on the snare’s sound design are of paramount priority in that genre. Contrary to popular belief that vocals are the genre’s most dominant element, hip hop engineers actually mix the vocals slightly lower relative to the other elements in order to force the listener to turn up the volume, thereby increasing the energy of the overall track.
House and techno are different beasts altogether. The kick and bass are usually the most important elements and it’s important to ensure they sit well together. Many dance tracks are instrumental as well, meaning that synthesizers and melodic elements often occupy the mid-range that would otherwise be inhabited by vocals. As these elements differ significantly from each other, one’s mixing approach must always be ready to adapt.
In addition to properly applying effects to individual elements, I have also been learning how to effectively use effects on the mixing buss. In the course of producing my earliest tracks, I remember looking up mixing chains online and slapping them on the master indiscriminately. It often made the mix sound better, so I figured I was doing my job. It wasn’t until Wyatt walked me through each component in the process that I finally felt as though I understood exactly what I should be doing, and more importantly, how to tailor each approach to the specific song at hand.
Wyatt is a big fan of using saturation, compression and limiting in order to maximize the fullness of the sound. Of course, the devil is in the details. Simply slapping those three effects on the master will not magically transform your mix into sonic gold. He spent quite a bit of time explaining exactly which settings would result in the most desirable sound. Check out the difference that the proper use of these techniques made on a techno track I just started:
Sicarii – Techno WIP (No Effects on the Mix Buss):
Sicarii – Techno WIP (Saturation, Compression and Limiting on the Mix Buss)
In addition to increasing the gain, punch and energy of a mix, using proper mixing techniques can also make it easier to use reference tracks. This allows for a preview of what the final master will sound like and helps guide the engineer’s mixing approach prior to mastering. Wyatt explains how to do just that in the Dubspot tutorial below.
That’s a wrap for this week! Tune in next time as we wrap up the first level of Mixing and Mastering curriculum and transition into the next set of lessons.