Learn How to Mix Music with Young Guru | Young Guru | Skillshare

Learn How to Mix Music with Young Guru

Young Guru, Grammy-Nominated, Legendary Audio Engineer

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7 Lessons (53m)
    • 1. Introduction

      1:15
    • 2. Organizing a Mix

      6:43
    • 3. Determining Levels

      10:31
    • 4. Adding Effects: EQ

      13:15
    • 5. Adding Effects: Reverb

      6:33
    • 6. Adding Effects: Compression

      9:05
    • 7. Tonal Balance

      5:32
335 students are watching this class

About This Class

From organizing a mix to adding effects, learn from the best. Join legendary Grammy nominee, producer, and DJ Young Guru to learn the essentials of audio engineering — so you can create the sound you want to hear in your music.

A Note from Young Guru

More than all other mediums, we seem to regard music as the most personal and vital to our existence. As its influence and importance continues to swell in the way human beings interact, connect and celebrate living together, so too increases the importance of understanding the art of audio engineering. This is precisely why I have decided to venture into education and build this class with Skillshare.

I have had the pleasure of working with the likes of Jay Z, Kanye West, Eminem, Beyonce, and countless other brilliant artists throughout my career.  While I continue sharpen my skills even this deep into the game, I am excited to share some of the knowledge and techniques I have gained over the years with all of you.

This online Skillshare class is made up of four sections, which include exclusive videos and materials broken up into the following lessons:

  • Organizing a Mix - working with the basic components to a DIY mix, which include the Digital Audio Workstation [DAW], the tracks, and the controls, and how to optimally organize all of the audio information and tools for the task at hand
  • Determining Levels - how to arrange levels in accordance with the artist’s vision for the song
  • Adding Effects - how to work with basic effects like phasers, enhancers, reverb and delays, as well as create negative space or blend/fade where appropriate
  • Tonal Balance - how to recognize when perfect tonal balance has been achieved

I will provide a downloadable raw audio file so that everyone is mixing together and on the same page throughout the process. For the class project, however, you can use your music of your own creation.

— Young Guru

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Transcripts

1. Introduction: My real name is Jamil Keaton. I'm factually known as Young Guru. I'm a music engineer, producer, and also a DJ. We're here today because I want to give some basics on how to mix records, how to get your record sounding at least to a professional level because of the fact that you can run out with $200, and buy the latest dock, and think that you're a recording engineer after throwing some signals in there, and that's one of the biggest things about learning is that, I learned underneath of someone else. A lot of the kids today don't have access to those places. It's a situation where the places where you go to get that information are slowly, but surely dying out. Recording used to be a black art because it was passed down by word of mouth. Yes, there's science in it, but the things that make particular engineers special were things that were passed down to them. So, that's the complete reason as to why we need to take this information and make it available to the public, so that the art form doesn't die. 2. Organizing a Mix: Okay. So, in our first lesson, we're going to start where I start inside of the session, which is organizing the session. I think a lot of people overlook this fact. Organizing for your session is one of the primary things that allow you to have a great workflow. If you're pulling up music, especially music that you haven't recorded, it's a lot easier if you start to label everything and start to move audio files around so that the common things are together. I don't think it can be overstated how important it is to learn your DAW. Right now, I'm working inside of Logic, but you can transfer this to any DAW that you want. But the important part is that you should learn how to work your DAW. I know that people get their DAW, and they wanted just go straight to making music. But one of those Sundays just wake up, start to read the manual, there's plenty of stuff online that you can go and watch on how to actually operate your DAW. You don't want to be in the middle of trying to do a mix and figuring out how to operate the DAW at the same time. It's one of the important things that makes a mix engineer better than another engineer that he stays on top of understanding how to operate the DAW. As you can see, I chose Superstition as an example for the song because I wanted to stay with something that had a lot of the classic elements of what you would hear a song. Also, I wanted to build off of a live drum tracks that you can hear exactly what happens when you're recording microphones. A lot of times when we're dealing with, let's say electronic music, people are so used to hearing just a solo the kick or a solo snare, but that normally doesn't happen in reality. When you have microphones set up, you're going to get bleed and you're going to get other sounds that are involved inside of that sound no matter how good your mike placement is. So, there's certain tips and techniques that are different for dealing with the bleeding of sounds or determining how you want to use that bleed. Sometimes the bleed is good at as to the fullness of a song. So, that's another reason why we want to concentrate on this material here. So, when I first pulled up this session today, immediately, the first thing I did was to pull an audio files. When I look at these audio files, I'll see that they're pretty much all the length of the song. There's not a lot of things repeated here or there's not a bunch of loops in here. So, I'll start to line them up and see what I have. But I think the very first thing that you should do is pull up all your faders and listen to your song. This is important so that you can start to get a feel of what you're supposed to be doing. When you're mixing a record, don't ever forget that the emotion of the record and the quality of what you're trying to bring out is going to be done by the emotion of the record. So, figure out what the artist is trying to say, where the record is trying to go, and when you listen to this, start to figure out a plan of attack of how you're going to mix the record. So, the first thing I would do, would be to bring the faders up and then listen to the record. As I'm playing a song, I'm try to notice the way that certain instruments are playing off of each other. What's the arrangement of the song? How long does it take to get to each part? What frequency spectrums they're filling up? So, the first thing I notice is that there's a double on the lead, and I maybe solving things to figure out what they sound like. So, obviously, this is our first lead and there's a double lead to as a background. As you can see, I went through and labeled every track on here, also extremely important. When you're in a middle of a session, you don't want to be looking at audio one and audio two and audio three. That's fine for the actual file, before your track you want to name it so that you know what it is. As I'm going through this song, I noticed there's guitars, there's claps, there's horns, there's bass, and then there's drums. It's pretty much a classic song with classic instruments. The way that I mix is I like to put all my drums to the left. So, that doesn't matter from starting with a live drum kit or an electronic drum kit. I like to start with the kick, the snare, the high hat, then I'll add all the percussive stuff and then end with the overheads. This allows me to visually see what's going on inside of the session and keep everything organized. Another great tip for organizing your session is sometimes you'll have tracks that will have parts in just one part of the song and be blank for a large portion of the rest of the song. Take for example our background vocal here. We see that in parts of the song, it's not actually in the song. It's sometimes a great idea to go through and take out the audio file in that particular part of the song. That way you make sure you don't have extraneous clicks and pops or just extraneous noise inside of your mix. So, one of those things that's great about working in the digital era is that we can completely remove things. That way we don't have to so much worry about gating or compressing something in that particular area. We can just erase the audio file altogether and as well visually, it lets us know that there's nothing playing during that section. So, I would go in here and I would basically just cut out this little blank piece of audio to let me know that nothing is going to play during that part. Again, it's just an organization thing for me, it's not completely necessary but it makes my session a lot easier for me to work with visually. So, again, just to sum everything up, when we first get our mix, the most important thing is for us to organize the track. So, we start to label each channel so that we know what it is. We start to organize them from left to right. I like to start with drums, you can start with whatever you want, there's absolutely no rules what the organization is, it's key and paramount. Then we go in and we try to take out whatever extraneous noise that we don't need. Sometimes there's a chair in the background, sometimes a DAW slammed, anything can happen. We go through and we make sure we take out those noises, so that when we're focusing sonically on the record, we're not cleaning up the record from extraneous noises. 3. Determining Levels: So, as we move into our second part, this is really becoming the main part of the mix. This is where we get the balance for each of the tracks. What we try to do is we listen to each track and we'll go in and we'll get an initial balance just to see what it sounds like in the proper place, then we'll go through and try to enhance each of those sounds to get it to where we want it. So normally, I would start with the drums. The reason being is because the drums take up the most dynamic range in a mix. You're consistently worried about your stereo bus. Your stereo bus is where all those sounds gets summed together, and if that stereo bus is too loud, then you're going to start to get distortion. Since we're working in a digital realm, our maximum is zero. The fader will read zero and we'll start to get clipping. This is what you don't want. We want to stay out of the red and we want to stay away from hitting zero. So, I'll start with my loudest things first to make sure that they're the most in control which normally is the drums. So, I'll start to push up the kick. Start to add the snare. As I'm listening to this, I'm just trying to get an overall level of where I'm going to place everything in my song. This is the overhead mic. One of the best tips that I can give is that I do this freely, not paying attention completely to the stereo bus at a given time, right now it's about feel. Because once I get the proper feel of where these things should be, I can always group them together and pull them down in my mix so that the audio levels aren't clipping. Right now we're worried about the relationship between one instrument and the next instrument in the mix. So, I'll continue down my song adding in everything. I'll start with this guitar, add the next guitar, and I'm also figuring out panning while I'm doing this. I'm figuring out the places where they're going to sit inside of our mix. For those of us that don't understand panning, it's very easy to explain. You have a left ear and a right ear, sound can go all the way from your left ear to your right ear and be placed anywhere in that. The easiest way to think of it is to think of an orchestra. When you sit down and you watch an orchestra you have people placed on stage for a given reason. You have the violas all the way over here to the right, moving into horns, moving into other strings like violins and then that's the reason why we have all the percussion and bass stuff in the middle in the pit is because that sits directly in the middle of your mix. So, it's very easy to visualize where things are in your spectrum by visualizing an orchestra, that's the way that I do it. I think where would I place this person on stage. One of the greatest tips that I can give you and one of the biggest mistakes that I see in a lot of people's mixes, is that they only think about left to right when they think about panning. Panning is not just left to right, it's also thinking about where front to back that person is sitting on stage. Again, we'll use the example of an orchestra. When an orchestra sits down, the best player sits in the front, that's called first chair. That means that you the audience will hear the best player first because they're sitting closest to you. So, you start to place players behind those people and they're further remove. So, they should sound further removed in your mix and we'll get into how to move things front-to-back. But for now, let's just worry about where we're going to place them panning wise left to right, these are decisions we're making while we're getting the initial level. So, for this guitar, I would move this guitar a little bit to the right as if my guitar player was sitting a little bit to the right of me. Another great trick is to double a guitar and to put it on the opposite side of whatever other guitar that you have in there. One of the things that we look for in a mix is balance, we don't want everything leaning to one side and we don't want everything to be frequency heavy on one or the other side. So, we try to balance where we put different instruments to make it interesting for the listener. As you can see this guitar is more to the right, there's brighter guitars more to the left. So, we now have the stereo image that were sitting in between these two. Also with our drums, when we sit down at a drum kit, we can visualize exactly where the drums should go. There's two perspectives when mixing a drum kit. Do you want to mix from drummers perspective? Meaning that everything will look the way that it looked to the drummer sitting there, or do you want to make from audience perspective? The way that it looks to the audience. So, most of the time when a drummer sits down his snare is on its left hand side and the snare should move to the left hand side in your mix to replicate the exact sound that the drummer would hear. I'm going to mix this song from drummer perspective. So, that means I would move my snare over a little bit to the left and I'd move my high hat over a little to the left, and I'd keep the kick in the middle because that's exactly where the drummer would hear it. Now, I have a guitar effect. This guitar effect is reflecting our second guitar so I'll move this to match the exact position of that guitar as well. In this song, it's obvious that the clav is probably the most important instrument in the song. So, we're going to figure out different places to put this clav. But as we can see our engineer recorded almost five different clavs. So, we can put the clav in a bunch of different places to make it sound extremely full. This first clav I'll bring up and I'll move over a little bit to the right, and I'll have this next clav mimic that same thing. Then I'll take these other three clavs and bring them up and balance them out on the other side, also keeping in mind that I already put a guitar on that side so I don't want it to be in the exact same place as the guitar. I want it to seem like different people were sitting in different places inside of the band, that's why we move them to different positions. Now, during this whole process I'm also keeping into account when certain things play in the song. It's important to understand that the balance can be thrown off if an instrument is in one section of the song. So, you find out what your main instruments are and that helps you decide where you want to place them in our span of where we're panning these left to right. Very important when placing the base, you want to check the relationship between the drums and the bass. This is probably the most important relationship when it comes to the foundation of the record. So, for right now to make it a lot easier for me to see, I'll move the base over to where the drums are. So, if I solo just the kick and the snare and the base, I can start to understand this relationship a little bit better. Always keeping in mind that we want to feel the bass and we want the bass to hit us sort of what I call in the chest but we don't want the bass to overtake the drum. That's another big key mistake that I see with people, is that they allow the base to overtake the drums and then they start to push the drums up to have a stronger attack. All the while, you have to keep in mind that you have a limited amount of space inside of your stereo bus. So, it's not always about pushing up the bass, it's about getting a great relationship between the bass the kick and the snare and then placing everything else around that, it's very key. Start to add the horns. Now, that I have a relationship on the music, I'll start to concentrate on the vocals, and take it back to beginning. I like to start the song from the beginning so that I can get a feel for where I'm going in the song. So, I'll start with the lead vocal. I'll wait for that to come in. But as we're waiting, we're still recognizing what level the rest of everything else is at so that when the vocal comes in, we'll have a greater understanding of where that needs to sit. As you can see, the vocal is low and that means we're going to have to do some processing towards the vocal but at least I know that now. This initial processes just for me to get a feel of the song. After I put in my lead, I'll put in the ad lib. Now, I pretty much have the whole track in. Again, I'll go down and listen to the song from beginning to end to make sure that the feel is still there. Now, I have a general idea of the song and relatively where I want to place all of my instruments and the levels of those instruments and I've listened to the song enough to now have a great feel for the song. Which will allow us to take us to our next lesson which will be to start to add plugins and effects to the instruments. 4. Adding Effects: EQ: Now we have a general balance for our levels, what we want to do is to start to go through and to add effects in EQ. This is really the heart of mixing. So, what I'll do to make this easy for you is I'll take one of my favorite plug-ins which is the SSL plug-in, and I'll put it on each of these tracks. So, what I'm doing is I'm actually taking what would be the channel strip of this SSL and applying it to every channel in plugg-in form. So, I'll go in here, I'll select from my waves category, and I'll go all the way down here to where it says SSLG. What this does is place one of these SSLs on each one of my channels, so now I can start to EQ each of these separately. So, what I'll do is I'll start again with my kick and I'll start to EQ the kick to get closer to the tonal balance that I want. Sometimes, when you're selecting what you want the kick to sound like, you need to decide if it's going to be a wuffy kick, a punchy kick, or a subby kick. By describing those different things, it's really saying what frequency am I going to concentrate on. A lot of times when we say punchy, we mean around the 200 Hertz category. When we say subby, we mean somewhere around the 50 or 60 Hertz category. There should be in general overall language that when an artist or producers speaking to you can translate that language into frequencies. So, when I play this, now as you can notice, the microphone is picking up a little bit at the bottom end of this snare. So, one of the things that I like to do is just to get the kick. So, I'm hearing just the kick. When I'm gating I want to make sure that I have my threshold high enough. That the kicker is still coming through, but nothing else is coming through. Now, nothing is coming through. So, I'll back off just a little bit to make sure that my kick is there. So, my kick is coming through but the release time is not enough, so that I'm getting the whole kick. So, by increasing the release time, I'm increasing the amount of the release of the kick that you're hearing. Then I'll start to EQ. What I like to do, is turn the plus way up, and sweep through these frequencies. That way I can start to hear the sweet spot of where are the kick to be. I'll say right about there and then I'll back off just a little bit until I get exactly where I want. That sounds good right about there. Now, sometime with live drums, you'll want to add something to the drum so that it's equivalent to the music that you hear today. A lot of times on the radio you hear things that are made through synthesizers, you hear things that are made through beat machines and you want to have something if you're playing live music that's equivalent to that when it plays against those other records. So, sometimes that's impossible just from acoustic instruments. One of the tricks that I've learned, is to actually send the kick through what we would call a sine wave. So, as I go into my door. I'll go and I'll send this kick to bus one. Now, our buses, allow us to send the signal anywhere that we want. We have a limited amount of buses per depending on the system that you have, but inside of most dawes, We have enough buses that we can bust to anything that we want. So, if I go into my audio effects. I'll go down here to where it says utility, and I have a test oscillator. All I'm going to do is create a low-frequency tone. Playing live music that's if it's just played by itself. After our oscillator, I'll place a gate and what I'll do is I'll use the kick as what we call the key input to the gate. So, technically what is that doing? A gate, as we saw on our kick, is something that only allows levels above the threshold to come through. It stays closed when a signal hits the threshold it opens the gate. So that we then hear the sound, and then closes the gate. That's why we call it a gate. So, what I'm actually doing is I'm placing a sub frequency underneath of this gate. I'm using the kick to open and close the gate. Thus, allowing us to have a heavier bottom to the kick. So, as you can see here, if I scroll down, I've created an auxiliary track that has just that. It has a test oscillator and a noise gate underneath of it. I'll move this closer to my kick and I'll call this sub. Again, we try to stay organized. So, if I unmute this, right now it just sounds like a basic sine wave. Right? Very boring, I can sweep through the frequencies and just create any wave that I want. This is actually a sine wave I can create square waves whatever I want. But we choose a sine wave, because it's going to give us the best sub. Then I'll add a noise gate. You'll notice now that this is off, that you still hear the sine wave. But if I add this in, and my threshold is high enough, now I don't hear that wave. So, the idea is for the kick to come in and open this gate so that we hear the wave. You'll notice if I pull my threshold down, below minus eight, we can hear the wave. If I push it up, it gets cut off. The key to this, is to assign the kick as the side chain input. The side chain input is in this area here. If I come down, and I select track one kick. Now, this becomes my side chain. What it will do, is allow the gates open up every time the kick hits. So, if I go back and I play our original kick, as you can see now, on our sub-track, the kick is triggering the gate. Sometimes you have to adjust the threshold, but if I bring this in now, you'll hear the difference. Now we've created a bottom in for our kick which we can blend with the kick, and give us more control over the sound and the hit of the kick. Again, you may have to adjust the threshold on your gate, if you bring it all the way down, it'll sound like our regular sine wave. You want to find that spot, it's right there where the kick and the sub are hitting at the same time. We can find a nice balance for the two and treat them as one sound by grouping them together. Now that we have that balance between the kick and the sub, I can start to add the rest of my sounds, but now with the processing on them. So, I add in my snare. My snare could use a little bit more tap end. I'll start to add the base, space may want to come up just a little bit and again we want to check our relationship with the base, the kick and the snare. A lot of times, the base and the kick are going to battle inside of the song for frequency range. So, one of the things that I like to do, is go underneath of the frequency that shows for the kick and turn that up in the base to fill up the rest of that space. So, I'll go back and I'll look, and say "Okay, well, I turned up 177 Hertz in the kick so I want to go underneath of 177 Hertz in my base." Let's say I go around 80. I'll start to increase that in the base. I'll also go on our mid range, just to give it a little bit more punch. I'll add our overheads for the drums, and let's keep that in the middle. As you can see this gives us a lot more of the symbols and the high adds of the drum kit. Another great trick that we've used over the year, is to take the overheads and to compress them by what we call squashing. That just means heavy compression. So, I may set my compression ratio to about five. Have a nice release of about 0.2. I'm going to go up high on my threshold or should I say low on my threshold, I'm bringing the threshold down so that it grabs all of the sounds, and what that does is it squeezes the overhead together which gives me a better overall feeling for the drums. It'll allow my symbols to be bright and it will also add a little bit more of a gluing factors to the kick and the snare. Because remember the overheads are one or two mics that are capturing the whole kit. Again, I'll start to add my guitars. Now, an important thing to remember is that one guitar will probably be dry, which is our direct guitar. Another guitar will probably be the recording of the effect or the cabinet of the guitar. Being that we're working in a door, you're free to take this guitar and put it through any cabinet that you want. After my guitar, I want to add the clap and at this point, it's great for me to start paying attention to my stereo bus. Because now I'm getting actual balance levels that are starting to overdrive, or get a little bit close to the red inside of my stereo bus. So, I'll group all these together and just pull them down. As you can see this saves my stereo bus but it keeps all the instruments in the same relative perspective as a relationship towards each other. Just remember that we're not changing our mix what we're doing is actually giving ourself more head room. So, that we're not maxing out our mix. So, in essence we will have the same mix with better head room which i.e will give us better audio quality. Again, over driving your stereo bus is the fastest way to get to digital distortion. Once you hit that 0.0 there is no correction, that any engineer can do. The computer now does not have zeros and ones to represent that audio file, so, it will just replace it with distortion. You want to make sure overall that you stay out of the red. As we get back to our mix, we'll start to add the horns and again pay attention to our stereo bus. Last but not least, we'll add in all vocals. Our vocal could use a little bit of volume, same thing with our [inaudible]. Again, we're always checking to make sure that we stay out of the red. 5. Adding Effects: Reverb: What is reverb? Well, when you're recording music, you record it in studio, but all places have what we call an acoustic space. That means that the sound is affected by the way that the room is designed. All of your walls inside of a studio affect the sound. So, whether you're in a million dollar studio or you are in your bedroom, the way that the sound is affected, is determined by the build of your room. The worst thing that you can be in, which most people are in when they're in their bedroom, is a square box. Why? Because this creates what we call standing waves. Standing waves are when a sound bounces off the wall and it hits the same sound coming at the same speed and cancels each other out. That doesn't normally happen in the real world. What normally happens is that these sounds hit each other and they won't completely cancel each other out, but they'll start to add and subtract in ways that will affect your mix. Meaning, that you'll be sitting in the room and the room itself will cause you to add more bass to a sound. So, that when you take your mix out of that room and try to play it in another environment, like a club, or on the radio, there'll be too much bass in the song or, the opposite can happen. The room can add bass to your song so that you feel comfortable where there are sounds of sitting, and then when you go play them somewhere else, it feels like you don't have enough bass in your song. So, what we try to do when we have a reverb, is to try to mimic the size of rooms. All that reverb does is place something further away from you or closer to you. The more reverb you have, the greater the reverb time, the further away that sound seems. This takes us back to our orchestra demonstration. If someone is playing the violin in the first chair they seem closer to you, versus someone playing fifth chair which seems further away. We accomplish this with reverb. So, right now I'm going to add a little bit of reverb to the lead vocal, to give it the appearance that it was recorded inside of a room. The reason that we record dry, is so that we can pick our reverb later. There are great rooms in studios that people pay a lot of money to go and record in those rooms strictly because they love the reverb of that room. So, that's what we'll do, we'll add a reverb to this vocal, to give it some space. Now one of the best ways to set up reverb, is to use a busting system. This is a common mistake that I see in a lot of mixes. People will take a reverb plug in and actually place it on this lead vocal, which technically isn't wrong. But if you're working in a laptop or you're working in a door on any computer system, you also want to keep in mind that there's a limit to the amount of things that you can do in terms of processing. So, with our busting system, what this allows us to do, is to put a reverb on one bass channel, and to use our basses to send as many channels to that reverb as possible. Meaning, that we don't have to put a reverb on every single channel of every voice and every instrument that we have on our track. That will max out our system quicker than anything else. Reverb is our one of the most highly processor heavy plugins. So, by placing this on a dedicated bass channel and then busting the channel to, that we want to send to that bus, we only have to use one reverb for all of the instruments. Hopefully you understand the difference. So, as you can see, I've created a bus one and what I'm going to do is on the lead vocal, I'm going to come up here and I'm going to go to bass one, and I'm going to send a little bit of this vocal to bass one. So, now if I go to my bass one channel, I can go here and I can pull up a reverb. You'll see that we'll have so many different defaults, that will show us ambience, we can have a big room, we can have a bright long reverb, we can have a church, we can have a live club. All these things are to get you in a general range of what the reverb is trying to represent, given in mind that you can tweak to your heart's content, once you put it on there. So, I'll start with the church. So now when I press play, I think it would be great if we saw all of this that you guys can hear exactly what I'm doing. Now you can hear. 13 month old baby. That's reverb. Broke the look in glass. That's note reverb. Seven years of bad luck. We want to find a balance, that allows our vocals to stick out what doesn't sound too washed out. Depending on the style of music that you're doing, will depend on how much reverb you want to place on the vocals. Myself, I like to add just enough so that I can barely hear it in the mix but I know it's there. Just enhance the vocals and give it some space. So, if I take this back so that you can hear from the beginning of the verse, I want to add just enough, so that I can hear it but it doesn't wash it out. What I normally do is go too far and then back myself up. That's too far. Great, now we've added a little bit of space to our lead vocals. I may want to do the exact same thing to our ad lib vocals, so that they sound like they were recorded in the same room. I'll check the level of the same, because that is minus six, and I'll take the add lib to minus six. Great, now you can do this with any instrument that you want, to make it appear like it's in whatever space you want, and there's a lot of creative reverbs that will get into in other lessons. 6. Adding Effects: Compression: Now that we've created some space for our vocal, one common thing that we do to try to control the vocal is to compress the vocal. This is probably the most misunderstood technique in modern recording. What is a compressor? A compressor actually squeezes your vocal. What do I mean by squeeze your vocal? Every sound has a dynamic range. Your dynamic range is the difference between the loudest and the softest sound that that sound will make. The human voice can be very soft and whispery or it can be very loud and screaming. Oftentimes, the whole range of that is demonstrated inside of a track. If we set our levels for the highest level of our track, let's say the vocal, then during the quiet parts, it won't be loud enough. If we set our levels for the quiet parts, then it may distort and go too loud in the loud parts. So, what we do is we set a compressor, so that it squeezes our vocal and controls our vocal. There are all different types of flavors of compressors. All of them basically do the same job but in different ways, but there are some very common things that are on all compressors. Number one and the biggest concept that you need to understand is the threshold. The threshold is actually telling the compressor when to act. So, if we have an audio wave that moves up and down at a certain peak, we're going to set our threshold, and say once the audio wave gets above this threshold, we're going to start working on that audio file, and what does that mean? Well, that's where the second one comes in. Our ratio, our compression ratio is probably the second biggest thing. That actually tells the compressor how hard to work. So, if you look at your compressors, they'll say one to one, two to one, three to one. What does that mean? The compression ratio is just that it's a ratio. It's the ratio between two numbers. It's basically saying that for every three decibels that this signal goes above the threshold, we're only going to allow it to go over one. It's a control factor, it tells you how hard the compressor is working. So, obviously, a three to one ratio is lighter than a 10 to one ratio. So, you'll figure out your ratio depending on the audio that's going in. The higher your ratio, the more squashed your signal will be. This is why this is the most commonly misused thing in audio because it's very easy for you to just completely squash the performance and make it lifeless, which is not what you want to do. You want to control it, you don't want to make the performance lifeless. So, be very careful with your threshold level. You don't want too much compression because then, you'll rob the artist of their great performance. So, what do I mean by this? If we look at our lead vocal track, and I'll pull up my plug in again. Right here, in our dynamic section, is where we have all our controls. This first one is the ratio that I just spoke of. This is one to one, two to one, three to one. This is our threshold. This is telling us when the signal is going to be affected by the compressor. This last one is also the release. The release is telling us how long it takes before we get back to our natural level of the compressor. The longer the release, the longer the tail is going to be. What do I mean by a tail? Well, if you have a quick percussive instrument, there really is no tail, but if you're dealing with something, let's say like a bass that has an initial attack, and then a tail, this is going to tell you how much of that tail is going to be compressed. That's all it's telling you. If you have a vocal where someone is singing, the initial attack is one thing, and then when that voice carries out, the release will tell you how long the compressors are going to stay in. So, if I play this again, you can see right here by this orange. This is telling us how much compression we have in the track. So, right now, with our threshold set here, we're getting a minus three, minus five decibel sort of thing going on. If I turn this threshold, actually let me solo this so you can hear it. If I turn this threshold all the way up, that's squashing. This is what we don't want to do. This means that everything inside of the vocal is being compressed, and that's not what we want to do. So, let's pull this back. This was good about right about here. What that does is gives us control over the frequencies that are going above what would be the average of where the normal signal level is, and there's another great point that we need to bring about in terms of compression. Is that compression not only controls the top end, it also brings up the floor. When we say squash or we say floor, it makes the lowest sound come up, and it makes the highest sound go down. So, what does that mean in practical terms? That means that if you have a lot of floor noise, if you have a lot of background noise, if you are in a room where an air conditioner is playing and that air conditioner happens to get on to your recording, all of that soft noise will be brought up. So, it's very important for you to listen to what you're compressing and make sure that you're getting just the signal that you want for that particular instrument, be it a guitar or vocal or drum track. Now, that I've compressed this, I can throw it back into my mix and it will be easier for me to control and it will sit better inside of the mix. Again, I'd like to start from the beginning just to get the feel of the song. Don't forget that music is about feeling and groove. It's not always about just technical things, you should be feeling as you are doing it. Okay. Our adlib's are a little bit too loud. Let me just bring that down just a little bit. Another thing that people ask me is, how do you know the proper level for a lead vocal? Most of the time, that's up to you, but you want to make sure that the artist is audible, that they're clear, that they can be heard, and most of the time I try to match them somewhere around wherever the snare is in the song, and if there's no snare, you sort of get a feel for where the rest of the instruments are, and you want it to sit just a little bit above the rest of the instruments depending on the style of music. Again, you're doing something where the vocal isn't really the main focus, you should make sure that the main focus of the record is what is prominent. So, for this song, obviously, the vocal is important, so we set it just a little bit above the rest of the instruments. How do you know if it's too loud? If we look at our stereo bus, the music is driving our stereo bus. Meaning, that that's what's causing everything to go up and down. If I solo this we will see exactly the level of our lead vocal. If I turn the lead vocal all the way up, it starts to drive our mix, if you understand what I mean. That's what we don't want. We want the music to drive the mix. Now, we set an overall level for our vocal, but human beings don't sing at one consistent level, right? So, we would go through our song, and we would listen to it, and we would do what we call vocal rods. This is where our automation comes into play and we would actually go through the song, listen, and in essence turn the vocal up and down depending on how loud or soft it is in any given session. All right. So, we would, because riding your vocals allows you to not over compress your vocals and to make sure that everything is even throughout your songs, or there may be some type of creative thing that you want to do where you want the vocal to get softer or louder depending on the music. Now that I have my vocal set and the rest of my instrument set, I will listen down one more time just to get everything into my mind before I start to make final decisions for our final part of the mix. 7. Tonal Balance: Now that we've gotten our overall balance and we've added effects and we've EQed some of our things, it's time for us to start thinking about our final mix, and one of the biggest things that people ask me is should they compress the final mix. Meaning that you have a master bus or should we say a master fader. Should you put a compressor or an EQ on the overall bus? This is completely up to you. This is where you get creative. This is where you start to make decisions on how you want the final thing to sound. For years I have never put a compressor on the master bus. I think there may be one mix in my life that I've done this to. Why? Because I trust my mastering engineer, and I'd like to have the full dynamics of my song when I give it to someone else who's going to compress in EQ as well. Does that always apply? Maybe you're in a situation where you're going to put this song out and you want to have some master compression before it goes to the Internet or before it goes to your mix tape or whatever else that you're doing. This is subjective. It's up to you, but the same rules apply here that we went over for compression earlier. The biggest thing is to not squash your mix. You don't want to rob the dynamic range out of your mix with your compressor. So be very careful about putting a compressor over the master of your mix. It's very easy for you to print your mix without the master and then do that later when you're compiling all of your songs together. That way you can make certain decisions. If you're absolutely sure and you love the way that the compressor sounds and the EQ sounds on your master bus, then by all means, go ahead and put it on there. I'm giving you my personal experience of what I like to do to make sure that I'm safe. I normally print my mixes without it and I may add it later in a different stage. One of the last things that I like to do to check my mix is to actually put an EQ over the master just to check the tonal balance, and what do I mean by that? Well, if you go over here and you go and I pull up an EQ, this will actually give me a graph to show me where all of my frequencies are, and as you can see, I may want to bump up just little bit in this 10K rank and maybe a little bit in this 2K one. You can hear the overall level of my mix getting brighter and you can also see that our representation of our graph gets louder and louder, showing us that we have a more even mix. We want to make sure that tonally, all of our frequencies are represented inside of our mix and this will ensure that our mix will be comparative to other mixes that are out there especially when you're going to play something on the radio. So, at the end of this mix, the only thing that I would need to do now would probably be to add a fade at the end or to decide if the song is going to cut off. That, most of the time, is not the engineer's decision, it's just something that you would ask the producer and you would actually do it. A lot of the things that you do need to get clearance from the producer. There's a great concept that you need to understand and remember. As an engineer, you're in the service business, you're servicing someone else. It's sort of like being a barber. If someone sits down and you're the barber, they tell you how they want their haircut cut. The reason that they come to you is because you're the expert on doing that. They're going to ask suggestions, but at the end of the day, don't ever forget that it's the producers record. So, you're here to facilitate the way that that person wants the record to sound. If it's your record then you are the producer and the engineer and there is no problem. So hopefully, most of these tips and tricks can help you get started in creating your own music and you can use the things that I've learned over the years as a beginner to help you organize for your mix and to come out with better mixes. So, here's what we're going to do. This is going to be interactive. It's not just gonna be me sitting here teaching. This is going to be interactive to the point where we want you guys to apply all these things to your mixes. So we're going to run a contest. We're going to let you submit your own music. What we need to hear is your original and what you did in the mix. So, to be clear, there'll be two files that will be jumping off of, the original recording and the mix that you did. I'll pick ten people and those people immediately will win a pair of my headphones. So, out of that, we'll pick the number one winner who will get me to mix their actual record. It's not just for me, it's also for the rest of the community. We're trying to build a community here on the site so that you guys can talk to each other and give each other tips, tricks, and creative criticism. It's always best to make music with a group of people. I've played my mixes for other engineers that I love. We're trying to create that same environment here for you. So, let's get to work. Let's get to mixing and let's get those mixes up.