Mixing and Editing

Mixing and Editing – Tutorial part 6

Here is a concise tutorial, consisting of seven parts and therefore divided over seven individual posts, about the composing, orchestrating, and recording/production process of music. It is intended for beginner composers, orchestrators, sound-engineers, home-studio owners. And it is not intended merely for making electronic music. It is intended as a good place to start with music and to learn a few tricks that will save time and help them along the learning music composition.

Overview individual posts of this tutorial

  1. Introduction making Music
  2. Instruments
  3. Musical Synthesis
  4. Learning about Instruments
  5. Home Studio
  6. Mixing and Editing
  7. Really useful Links

Editing is an art that takes a lifetime to master. It’s like knowing how much of each spice to put into a dish – you’d have to make the dish a hundred times before you were truly confident. That is why I can’t teach you how to mix well. I can, however, let you in on some neat secrets that’ll make your job easier.

1. Takes

When recording, you need to do about 6 full takes of the song, without mistakes, to have enough audio material to work with to get a good mix. Then, you will need to mix and match all the good bits from each take into one final mix. Although at the time it may seem like one take is enough, generally, you will always find something you want done better upon re-listening to the recording.

Therefore, don’t be tempted to just be satisfied with a single take.

2. Topping and Tailing

A lack of ‘Topping and Tailing’ is a clear sign of a sloppy mix. Topping and Tailing means cutting the file so that there is no rubbish at the start and end of each take. When you press the record button, it might be 10 seconds before the instrument you are recording starts playing – that ten seconds needs to be cut.

Likewise, at the end, when recording, you should always leave at least 1 or 2 seconds of silence to be safe – that 1 or 2 seconds needs to be cut out and silenced. This may seem a bit pedantic and over-kill, but, although you may not be able to hear it, with sound, every detail matters.

3. Fading and Crossfading

All ‘bits’ of audio should be faded in before they begin and faded out before the end, even if only infinitesimally. This is to ensure that there is no sudden and unrefined entry or drop out of music. Even when doing it for effect, it is still good practice to fade out minutely.

Crossfading is the best way to link to ‘bits’ of audio smoothly. It means: to fade out the first piece and fade in the second piece simultaneously. It requires a bit of fiddling around to make a smooth, believable transition, but it is definitely the best way to join two pieces of music.

4. Normalizing

You should always normalize all your audio. Normalization brings the audio up to maximum volume. This means that you have to boost the sound less in master track giving you more control over the sound. Mixing is a task that requires a very good ear.

A simple method to use is:

  1. Starting with the percussive instruments, level them so that they all sound at a similar volume.
  2. Then add in the bass instruments.
  3. Then, the melody.
  4. Then the harmony.
  5. Next, you should apply EQ.

Start by bringing down frequencies between 100Hz and 4000Hz in the harmony instruments and boosting those frequencies in the melody instruments. This makes them clearer. Then, add a low-cut filter at about 50Hz to the melody instrument (especially if vocals). These frequencies are generally unnecessary for melody instruments. Apply a low-cut filter to hihats, cymbals, piccolos, flutes, violins, and any other high pitched instruments at about 125Hz.

If you have a snare drum, spend a fair bit of time making it sound how you want – this is something a lot of people rush. Panning is really important, however, there are no real guidelines for it. You will need to use your own creativity.

Some techniques you might want to try: panning one harmony instrument left, and another, right.

This may sound a little strange at first, but it will clear up a lot of space in the sound. Also, you could try panning the drums in a realistic fashion: the snare slightly to the right, hihat far right, crash slightly right, ride slightly left, floor tom far left, everything else center. Also, you could try panning the backing vocals in various directions.

Ross Unger, www.rossunger.com

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