Mixing Resolutions – Part Two
In “Mixing Resolutions – Part Two”, Groove3 trainer Eli Krantzberg looks at incorporating new mixing ideas and habits, so that they will eventually become embedded into his mixing workflows.
In Mixing Resolutions – Part One, I pledged to myself (and all of you out there reading) to push myself further as a mixer. Despite the imposed limitations of working in a “metered time” model (charging by the hour), I want to try and incorporate some new mixing ideas and habits over time, so that they’ll become embedded into my go-to repertoire of mixing workflows. Below are some of the old habits I want to modify, and new ones I want to try and incorporate.
Using Dummy Automation
This one pertains to pre mixing, not the actual mix itself. I generally try to discourage clients from using automation while in the tracking and editing stages. Often while editing they want to hear some element or another louder or softer in a specific section. I know from experience that we are still a ways off from actual mixing and these levels will be irrelevant at that point. Everything is always in flux when you are tracking and editing. I also know that any automation I create at this point will be a royal PITA to track down and delete when I inevitably try and alter a level at some point in the future and it snaps back to it’s automated position. I hate painting myself into a corner with automation that I know will ultimately need to be deleted.
So, how can I automate levels temporarily without getting frustrated when they inevitably need to get tracked down and deleted? I could try using a gain plug-in and automating that instead of volume. The problem with that is the gain slider is so coarse, it’s hard, even with automation, to automate in fine increments.
So, my plan is to insert a “dummy” channel EQ when this sort of temporary automation is necessary. I’ll automate the Master Gain parameter in these scenarios. Then when I inevitably want to get rid of the automation, I’ll just remove the Channel EQ and voila! The automation disappears permanently, even if I then call up a fresh Channel EQ in the same slot.
A nice fringe benefit of doing this is that it also allows me to add some temporary EQ to the sound that can also be removed in that same single step. One caveat though is that I need to remember not to use this an intended EQ. If I do, and end up getting settings I want to keep, I can keep it there and just go in and delete the Master Gain automation lane. Or just copy and paste the settings into a new Channel EQ instance. I would probably opt for the latter.
Mixing Into Bus Compression
I have never personally been a fan of doing this. Not because I think it is a bad idea, it isn’t. I just never took the time to incorporate it into my workflow, but want to give it a try.
I almost always set my mixer up so that everything is arriving at a summing bus before it hits the main stereo output. One of the big advantages of this setup is that it allows me to attenuate or boost the global level before it hits any processing I may put on my stereo output. So I generally like to leave that summing bus free of any processing. It is a great visual reference of my overall mix level. And if I am too hot I can easily bring it down while still leaving my stereo output at unity gain.
I am a big believer in always leaving the stereo output at unity gain. My reasoning is that if you are driving too hot a signal into it, it will effect the input of whatever plug-ins you may ultimately put on there. And different plug-ins handle hot inputs differently. My thinking is, better to not have to deal with this, and just simply control the level before it reaches the input of whatever plug-in my be in the first slot of on the stereo output.
So, my plan is to leave my summing bus as is, in order to make sure I am not feeding too hot a signal to the stereo output. And I will put a Logic Pro Compressor plug-in on the stereo output’s first slot. I plan to run it at very conservative settings, so as to leave room for mastering afterwards. This isn’t mastering compression, this is bus compression – so the idea is for it to act as a bit of “glue” to blend the mix together nicely, not to pump up the over all level of the mix.
I am going to set the circuit type to the Vintage VCA model, since this is the type most closely designed to replicate SSL style bus compression, which is designed specifically for this purpose. I figure I’ll start out with a modest 2:1 ratio setting. Maybe even 1.5:1 until I am really confident with it. And a relatively slow release time, so as not to draw any unnatural attention to it. Maybe somewhere between 100 – 200 ms. And not too fast an attack, so that it doesn’t affect the quick transients too unnaturally. I’ll probably start off with it at around 15 ms or so. I’ll start out with the knee in the middle of it’s range, so that there is a slight curve to the response once the compression kicks in; and try a db or two of make up gain. Of course all of these are just starting points and will be tweaked as necessary. And best of all, I can quickly eyeball the amount of compression happening with Logic Pro X’s new gain reduction meter. There will be much less need to keep opening and closing that compressor to see what is going on.
Track Stack Sub Groups
As all of us are, I am very excited about the possibilities of Summing Stacks. I am already using them in various ways, and am anxious to further incorporate them at the mixing stage. I generally set up separate busses for drums, for vocals, and maybe guitars if there are a lot of tracks. Sometimes orchestral sounds, brass, etc as necessary. My goal now to get into the habit of setting up my sub groups as summing stacks. This will allow for easily adding or removing tracks from sub groups without having to worry about the basic routing. This isn’t really significantly different than how I work now, I just want to get into the habit of using Summing Stacks instead of manually creating the sub groups.
Compressing Instrument Sub Groups With Vocals Feeding The Compressor’s Side Chain
This is one of those little details that doesn’t take a lot of time to set up and can really help your whole mix sit better. I’ve just never personally gotten around to using this technique. It’s pretty simple. Let’s say you are mixing a vocal driven pop song and have your guitars sub grouped. Place a compressor on the subgroup (which will now be the main track of my summing track sub group!). And set the side chain input to receive signal from the lead vocal. If the lead vocal is outputting to another sub group, it doesn’t matter. Set up a send on that lead vocal track and make sure to delete the automatically created aux. The send will be used as a virtual pathway to feed the side chain on the guitar summing stack’s main track and won’t actually send audible output anywhere into the audio stream. Set the compression gently (I’m not sure yet of the settings I will start with) so that the guitars duck slightly when the lead vocal is present, and then subtly come back up when the vocal is absent.
So these are my first four mixing resolutions. Too much too quickly won’t work. There are plenty of other things I want to try. Every time I watch five minutes of a Dave Pensado video, my mind is teeming with ideas! But one step at a time. I’ll report back in the future about my progress with these, and other ideas I am trying to incorporate.
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