Okay but Flat mix - How to give it more life?

ekulggats

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Hey all-

Been learning to mix/master to a presentable degree for my music projects.

This is a concept for a song I made last month

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I think the mix sounds overall Okay/adaquate, but there's an 'upfront'ness it doesn't seem to have, the lows seem to be there but not very together/tight.

What things might you change? I can break down how I did different parts of it if that helps, or if you have suggestions on things off the bat.
 
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Drew

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Can't really listen from work, but the two likely culprits that would come immediately to mind -

1) over-compression, either on individual tracks, on the master bus, or both. Getting compression right so tracks still have impact and punch, but also stay in a predictable dynamic range and have the right amount of fullness and body, is a very hard thing to do, and if the mix itself doesn't have enough headroom then trying to crank it up to "CD volume" by running it through a limiter/series of limiters and compressors is probably going to make it sound smashed and flat.

2) Related to the second part of the above - too many instruments fighting for the same "space" in a mix creates headroom issues and can both make things sound "masked," as well as limit the amount of limiting/compression for volume maximization a mix can take before starting to audibly degrade.

I've got a lot going on tonight but I'll TRY to listen later.
 

ekulggats

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Can't really listen from work, but the two likely culprits that would come immediately to mind -

1) over-compression, either on individual tracks, on the master bus, or both. Getting compression right so tracks still have impact and punch, but also stay in a predictable dynamic range and have the right amount of fullness and body, is a very hard thing to do, and if the mix itself doesn't have enough headroom then trying to crank it up to "CD volume" by running it through a limiter/series of limiters and compressors is probably going to make it sound smashed and flat.

2) Related to the second part of the above - too many instruments fighting for the same "space" in a mix creates headroom issues and can both make things sound "masked," as well as limit the amount of limiting/compression for volume maximization a mix can take before starting to audibly degrade.

I've got a lot going on tonight but I'll TRY to listen later.
I think on this one it's probably not a limiting/clipping thing so much, I left more headroom on this. I almost think it might be an eq'ing or a source thing with any/several of the instruments. There are arpeggiated distorted leads, distorted rhythm, bass guitar and drums, so I'm not sure but there's a bit more info
 

TedEH

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I'm thinking more of #2 as mentioned above. To my ears, on first listen, my gut reaction was first that the drums feel buried, and then that the mix as a whole feels really busy - exactly as Drew mentions. I think you have the right general direction, 'cause it doesn't sound bad, but haven't gone quite far enough with processing each element - in particular, the guitars sound like they were mixed in isolation then dropped on top of the mix - they're swallowing up a lot of the available space. An easy example is how the kick drum is just a clicky sound in the background (on my monitors, anyway). You might be able to do something as simple as shelving some lows out of the guitars and re-balancing after that.

A second listen leaves me with another thought: certain elements are still a little more dynamic than you might want: like the snare is a bit inconsistent in level, as well as the low of the bass - sometimes it's very clear, sometimes it fades away a bit.

If you're not already doing so - my general strategy to get "in the ballpark" of a mix I like is always to compress everything lightly in stages, and go pretty aggressive with eq cuts on everything except drums.

So each drum -> compressed. Then bus them together and compress the drums all together because they are one instrument and should be treated as such (IMO) - that glues them together. Then the guitars are bussed together and compressed. And the bass tracks. Then bus all of those together and compress. Lots of little layers/busses with compression stacked. Then mastering happens above that. Each stage you do a little more, being careful not to do anything too dramatic, but enough to keep that track/bus under control - and by the end you have something where each component stays consistent and the whole feels glued together.

And for EQ -> don't be afraid to make giant cuts. Pretty much everything I record goes through a "where do I want this" pass where I hi / lo pass into a range, then shelve off the parts I don't want emphasized. Theeeeeen only once it generally "fits" with everything else, do I get picky about little cleanup cuts and worrying about "shaping the tone" or whatever. IMO eq is done 1st to clean up noise, 2nd to fit into a mix context, and then 3rd and last to "mould a tone" out of them since IMO that part should have mostly happened before you hit record.

Thems my thoughts. Hopefully some of it is helpful. As always, take anything I say with a grain of salt, 'cause while I think my ears are decent, I am not a pro by any stretch.
 

ekulggats

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I'm thinking more of #2 as mentioned above. To my ears, on first listen, my gut reaction was first that the drums feel buried, and then that the mix as a whole feels really busy ....
Thanks for the thorough listen. I had a feeling it was something like that. Lets say frequency wise, if you were stacking a distorted rhythm and arpeggiated lead like I did, what freq's would you give to one or the other?

I also find I have to scoop a lot of low mid out of my bass guitar tone. I"m not sure if I did too much, I'm using the Parallax bass plugin for that. (Parallax is basically an all in one 'Compd lows distorted hi's' bass plugin)

By dynamic on the snare, Do you mean its just too loud overall or not compressed enough?

Bonus question, how would you handle bass guitar and kick? I've been just shelving the bass guitar higher than the kick, say around 120 hz or so and letting the kick have whats below that- is that good? I've experimented with sidechaining in the past but didn't do it on this one
 

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Drums are way too quiet. Kick is completely buried, it's like it doesn't exist. Snare is too quiet and seems slightly too dynamic, you need to even it out.
 

ekulggats

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I'm thinking more of #2 as mentioned above. To my ears, on first listen, my gut reaction was first that the drums feel buried, and then that the mix as a whole feels really busy - exactly as Drew mentions. I think you have the right ...
Further question, when you're doing a compression of a broad range of freqs dynamic ranges etc like doing a whole drumkit at once, how do you set your compression thresholds, attack, release etc accounting for all?
 

TedEH

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Lets say frequency wise, if you were stacking a distorted rhythm and arpeggiated lead like I did, what freq's would you give to one or the other?
Personally, I don't think of guitars in that way. I don't normally EQ lead vs rhythm very differently at all -> I depend on the two parts being distinct enough already that they won't step on eachother. Some low chugga chugga and high meedly meedly should already occupy different spaces. If they don't, then that's a songwriting problem, not a mix problem.

Instead - the bigger focus should be on making sure the three main elements of the mix fit together: the drums, the guitars as a whole, and the bass as a whole. There's no set formula for how to do it, but for example, you might decide that you want the 100-400hz range to be where the bass lives - you need to scoop that area out of the guitars with a shelf, otherwise it's going to build up reaaaaally quick. Likewise, if you want the kick drum to thump everything below 100, you need to take that away from the bass - either by eq-ing it out, or by using a sidechain compressor to duck the bass underneath it. Low end builds up very easily- because sound is additive and bass takes a lot of energy, so a lot of fitting stuff together means chopping parts of the low end out of each instrument until they all fit. Once you scoop a bunch of low end out of the guitar, you'll notice that you need surprisingly little bass to hold everything up. Note that I'm making up the numbers, you have to pick what fits the song and your tastes.

I also find I have to scoop a lot of low mid out of my bass guitar tone.
I've always personally chopped out pretty big sections of bass - leaving only the really low rumbly bits, a section a bit higher than that ("low mids"...?) where you're actually hearing the note being played, and a slice of high end somewhere to give presence. IMO how you handle the bass is a big part of what lends your mix it's own character, so there's no formula. I didn't get the impression there was too much taken away from the bass.

By dynamic on the snare, Do you mean its just too loud overall or not compressed enough?
Dynamic = opposite of compressed. Not every snare hit comes through at a consistent level. That could be the source sound, it could be the compression acting funny, it could be a lot of things. You'd have to investigate that one.

Bonus question, how would you handle bass guitar and kick? I've been just shelving the bass guitar higher than the kick, say around 120 hz or so and letting the kick have whats below that- is that good? I've experimented with sidechaining in the past but didn't do it on this one
Personally, I tend to think that if you've eq'd everything into it's space well enoguh, you don't have to really doing anything else crazy to make the bass+kick play well together. The kick drum has the benefit of being mostly transient sound - so if your bass isn't overwhelming, it will already poke itself above the bass, and your glue compression will do the rest. That being said -> if the kick drum is played fast, or just has a long decay to the sample you picked, theeeen you have more fighting, and I find the sidechain thing helps a lot there. Whenever I've done this, I only apply that sidechain effect to the low parts of the bass, so that the kick doesn't take presence away from the bass, just the low end build up that it's otherwise fighting against.

when you're doing a compression of a broad range of freqs dynamic ranges etc like doing a whole drumkit at once, how do you set your compression thresholds, attack, release etc accounting for all?
This one I honestly think you gatta practice to figure out. I tend to think of longer attack/release times to be for more "subtle" compression, and short times are for more dramatic changes like shaping transients or squashing the bajeezus out of something. Drums are already full of transients though (peaks, the pokey parts, the initial hits), so a drum bus compressor can have a whole lot of accidental effects, like killing your shell decay or making your cymbals pop in and out with snare hits etc. My last attempt ended up with something like 40ms att / 150ms dec, but it was also very subtle in the other settings - 2:1 ratio, soft knee, and the threshold was set so that it was only taking at most -4 off and only during snare/kick hits. It wasn't a "metal" track though so I don't know how useful that would be as a starting place.
 

Drew

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Further question, when you're doing a compression of a broad range of freqs dynamic ranges etc like doing a whole drumkit at once, how do you set your compression thresholds, attack, release etc accounting for all?
I mean, the simplest answer is, you don't. I'll probably have some light compression on my drum bus with a philosophy more or less in line with what @TedEH is describing, but the vast bulk of the dynamic control I'll put on a drum track is happening on the individual component level, bottom-up, and not top-down like you're describing. What are the dynamic properties of a snare drum, and what challenges do they pose? What are the dynamic properties of a crash cymbal, and what challenges do they pose? Are they the same properties and challenges, or are they different? The latter, so they almost definitionally are going to require different compression approaches.

Personally, I don't think of guitars in that way. I don't normally EQ lead vs rhythm very differently at all -> I depend on the two parts being distinct enough already that they won't step on eachother. Some low chugga chugga and high meedly meedly should already occupy different spaces. If they don't, then that's a songwriting problem, not a mix problem.
This. I'd nitpick and call it an arrangement problem more than a songwriting problem, but at the end of the day it's the same basic issue. If the parts aren't falling into different registers, different parts of the stereo space, and/or with different tones, you're going to have separation problems. You can make it better in a mix with EQ, but you can't create space in the first place if it doesn't exist.

Didn't get a chance to listen last night, btw - sorry!
 

ekulggats

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Personally, I don't think of guitars in that way. I don't normally EQ lead vs rhythm very differently at all -> I depend on the two parts being distinct enough already that they won't step on eachother. Some low chugga chugga and high meedly meedly should already occupy different spaces. If they don't, then that's a songwriting problem, not a mix problem.

Instead - the bigger focus should be on making sure the three main elements of the mix fit together: the drums, the guitars as a whole, and the bass as a whole. There's no set formula for how to do it, but for example, you might decide that you want the 100-400hz range to be where the bass lives - you need to scoop that area out of the guitars with a shelf, otherwise it's going to build up reaaaaally quick. Likewise, if you want the kick drum to thump everything below 100, you need to take that away from the bass - either by eq-ing it out, or by using a sidechain compressor to duck the bass underneath it. Low end builds up very easily- because sound is additive and bass takes a lot of energy, so a lot of fitting stuff together means chopping parts of the low end out of each instrument until they all fit. Once you scoop a bunch of low end out of the guitar, you'll notice that you need surprisingly little bass to hold everything up. Note that I'm making up the numbers, you have to pick what fits the song and your tastes.


I've always personally chopped out pretty big sections of bass - leaving only the really low rumbly bits, a section a bit higher than that ("low mids"...?) where you're actually hearing the note being played, and a slice of high end somewhere to give presence. IMO how you handle the bass is a big part of what lends your mix it's own character, so there's no formula. I didn't get the impression there was too much taken away from the bass.


Dynamic = opposite of compressed. Not every snare hit comes through at a consistent level. That could be the source sound, it could be the compression acting funny, it could be a lot of things. You'd have to investigate that one.


Personally, I tend to think that if you've eq'd everything into it's space well enoguh, you don't have to really doing anything else crazy to make the bass+kick play well together. The kick drum has the benefit of being mostly transient sound - so if your bass isn't overwhelming, it will already poke itself above the bass, and your glue compression will do the rest. That being said -> if the kick drum is played fast, or just has a long decay to the sample you picked, theeeen you have more fighting, and I find the sidechain thing helps a lot there. Whenever I've done this, I only apply that sidechain effect to the low parts of the bass, so that the kick doesn't take presence away from the bass, just the low end build up that it's otherwise fighting against.


This one I honestly think you gatta practice to figure out. I tend to think of longer attack/release times to be for more "subtle" compression, and short times are for more dramatic changes like shaping transients or squashing the bajeezus out of something. Drums are already full of transients though (peaks, the pokey parts, the initial hits), so a drum bus compressor can have a whole lot of accidental effects, like killing your shell decay or making your cymbals pop in and out with snare hits etc. My last attempt ended up with something like 40ms att / 150ms dec, but it was also very subtle in the other settings - 2:1 ratio, soft knee, and the threshold was set so that it was only taking at most -4 off and only during snare/kick hits. It wasn't a "metal" track though so I don't know how useful that would be as a starting place.
Damn man. Much appreciated. I feel like I owe you a burger or something haha

I've been doing some tweaks, I think part of the issue I'm having in the bass is the tracking I did which was clean but maybe too dynamic for a bass part. On several parts I just mimed the main guitar line with a pick lol.

Definitely re comping several elements, kick in particular I'm trying to get present and punchy without making it sound like normie metalcore clicky bullsh

Will make a new post with updated mix later-
 
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TedEH

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I've been doing some tweaks, I think part of the issue I'm having in the bass is the tracking I did which was clean but maybe too dynamic for a bass part. On several parts I just mimed the main guitar line with a pick lol.
A recorded bass, especially if you tracked it clean, is a reaaaaaaally dynamic instrument to begin with, so that's normal IMO.

I know I said to go subtle with compression, but there's one place that I'd call an exception (at least for my taste / workflow): Compress the ever-living daylights out of the low end of the bass. But only the low range that's there to support+fill the low end.

If it helps, this is how I've been doing bass lately:
I tend to think of bass as having three parts, and each part plays a different role. There's a high end, where you give your bass character and make it "stand out" through guitars, or on terrible speakers, etc. Put dirt on it, it's where the clank and slap lives, etc. Then you have a sort of low-ish mid-ish section that has the part of the bass that people register as "the fundamental" even though the actual fundamental frequency isnt there. It's the first couple of harmonics that you hear most of the note being played. I compress that part pretty heavily, probably to the point you already have. But there's one more part-> the low lows. The rumbly bits. The "wow, this mix is so full and consistent" part of the bass. I split that part off from the rest with a low-pass and compress it until it's almost a steady state. Then mute ALL of the bass tracks, and bring up only the low rumbly one until you only juuuuuust start to notice it's there, then stop. It should be barely there, but audible. Then bring the other two in, to taste - which you should be able to do conservatively, since you already have the low end held up by the rumbly parts. Sometimes I leave that middle track out entirely, but I always have the smashed-to-oblivion low track, and the relatively dynamic high track.
 


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