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The Sonic Excellence Guide for Rappers Pt. II: Mixing

February 21, 2012

Mixing

This is where all the elements of the song are combined and then placed in (hopefully) their own “space” in the stereo field; it’s where you give each element of the song its own treatment and work towards cohesion. A great mix is dependent on the quality of the recordings and the recordings should give you the necessary range to try different creative effects. For example, the “tightness” of the drums and bass line can be managed at this step.

Do…

  • Have one or more references for your mixing engineer if you have a specific effect in mind. It’s a lot easier to play a song that has a specific effect you want on your mix to your engineer as opposed to trying to explain it, or to expect the engineer to know the effect, even if the song is familiar to them. Also be upfront when it comes to the feel you expect to hear from the mix, things like “I want the drums to sound punchy but still want to hear all the bass line notes” should indicate to the engineer what they should do without you having to express that with heavier technical terms.
  • Finalize your edits at the mixing stage. If you tracked 10 adlib tracks but all of a sudden the mix sounds too busy, this is where you should decide how many of them should be cut from it. A lot of recording engineers clean up sessions during the recording stage. If you feel that this kind of workflow interferes with you while tracking, tell the engineer to mute the tracks and to keep recording (especially if you’re paying for recording time). This level of editing can be done either after you’ve recorded everything you need to or during the mixing stage.
  • Bring your own pair of (good quality) headphones to the studio and listen to your mixes with them as the engineer is finalizing the mix. As great as the mix might sound at the studio, it doesn’t mean the mix will sound great everywhere. Listen for a good balance of drums and instruments and how they relate to your vocals. Don’t listen for that “finished” sound just yet, concentrate on the effects you’ve placed on the mix and the relationship all instruments have to one another.

Don’t…

 

  • Expect the final mix to sound as loud or as clear as something that has already been professionally mastered. Tons of recording and mixing engineers add “mastering” processes to mixes these days and in my experience, they mostly tend to squash the levels of a mix, making them sound loud, which is the intention, but they usually do it in a way that kills the “punch” of mixes and this can easily make your songs sound lifeless. One of the trickiest things to do in the custom mastering stage is decrease the dynamic range (which is what happens when you start adding compressors and limiters to the processing stage) while maintaining punch and character. Tell the mixing engineer that your project will be mastered separately and ask for optimal mixes for mastering. If they don’t know what that means, ask for your money back and get your project mixed by someone that does.
  • Ask your engineer to turn your vocals up louder because they may sound a little low in the mix; you could be thinking about other music you’re used to hearing that are more balanced, and if the mix has a tad bit too much low/high end, your vocals may not feel like they’re sitting the way they should be. At mastering, middle frequencies tend to come up and be more noticeable. If your mixing engineer has loads of experience in mixing optimally for mastering, take their advice as to how loud the vocals are sitting on your mix. If there are other elements in a mix that seem to get lost at times, that’s something you can talk to your mix engineer about and have them bring them up, so keep an eye out for things that seem to get lost in the mix or just don’t have the impact you want to hear/feel.
  • Forget to ask for the highest possible resolution files to be sent in for mastering. Hopefully the Mix engineer you hired will know to give you mixes at the session’s native resolution and not something lower. Let’s say your project was recorded and mixed at 24bit/48kHz, the mixes you should get should be at this same resolution and not 16bit/44.1kHz mixes that the mix engineer gave you so you could burn on a CD. On the flip side, if the project was recorded and mixed at 16bit, increasing the bit depth to 24bits won’t add any more sonic “headroom”, it only matters when projects are kept at this higher resolution from the beginning. Sample rate and bit depth should be maintained from the creation of the project until the very last step in the mastering process.

If you’re still reading this, Pt. III will be up soon…

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