Friday, 31 May 2013

Mixing the album - planning the mix

I am surprised how few mix engineering handbooks and websites talk about planning the mix of an album in a wholistic way. Every book will tell you how to plan the mix for each individual song, but he overall planning of the album is often left for the beginner to figure out himself.

When I took on the task of mixing the concept album for The exile, I made a few mistakes, which caused me to start all over again, wasting many days in the process. In the interest of sanity, I therefore post this article of advice, hoping that at least one beginner will benefit.

During the mixing process of each track, you will add lots of effects and make many edits. As you tackle each track, you may get all exited and try many innovative ideas. After 20 days, you will proudly end up with 20 tracks, each sounding like top 20 hits. You may burn them all unto a CD, call over family and friends, pop the CD into your stereo and proudly press play. As you get to the third or fourth track you suddenly realize that the album sucks. Every track sounded great on its own, but as a whole, it is horrible. One track sounds like you are on the moon. The next sounds like it was recorded in a huge stadium and the next sounds like your bathroom. In horror and shame, you realize that you mixed 20 tracks, but never mixed an album.

This is especially important when mixing a musical, where you want all the tracks to sound like one cohesive whole in the end. Simply put, you want it to sound like all songs were recorded in the same place, and at the same time.

It is therefore important that you plan your album mix before you start. Here are some ideas of things you have to decide upon.


Reverbs define the "space" of the final mix. With a musical album you want it to sound like all tracks were recorded in the same space. Decide on a reverb preset for the main vocals, backing vocals and for each group of instruments. Whatever you decide upon, stick to those presets for the whole album. Typically,you may decide to use a medium hall preset at about -20% mix for lead vocals and a large hall preset at about -15% mix for the chorus. Acoustic guitars may typically be relative dry, with a plate reverb, while the drums may need 2 or 3 different presets. Strings and brass may need a large hall convolution reverb. Play around with different options, and then use these presets on all the tracks.

Another common problem is the drums. Today's software systems allow us to get very creative, but getting too creative once again does not help to make the whole album sound like a single unit. You will have to decide what drum kit preset to use and, if you use a program like Jamstix, what drummer and drum style to use. You can use a little bit of creativity with the drums, but you do not want the one track to sound like a heavy metal track and the next like a country song.

Another aspect you should considder is the strings or orchestral libraries you wish to use. Not all libraries sound the same. If you ise EWQL on one track and Garritan on the next, the final songs will sound different and the liatener will notice.

Plan these few things before you start. It will save you many hours later on, but do not over think things. A little artistic creativity is OK, but then it must be because you chose to be creative, not because you were to lazy to pan.


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