If you like to record yourself over songs or backing tracks, then you know how hard it is to make a good quality production. Here are some easy tips to make a good mix.
Guitars: record multiple identical tracks for rhythm
If you're doing metal music, then you know how important the heaviness of the sound is. This tip will make your guitar riffs sound heavy, loud and massive.
Record multiple times each guitar track. If you just record the track once, the result will be too "weak."
A good thing to do is to record at least twice each rhythm track. But beware, it is not about recording one version of the riff and then copy / paste it! If you do this, the result will be the same as if you had simply increased the volume of the track. The problem is not a matter of volume, but one of "consistency" of the sound.
It is also important to be as accurate as possible when recording the track as a big difference between the two recordings will produce imperfections when played simultaneously.
For the best result, I suggest you record at least twice each rhythm part, and even four times if necessary. For lead and solo parts, usually a single take is enough because they do not need to be as thick as the rhythm.
Take advantage of stereo rendering
To render quality music, you must provide a stereo track. This means that you should put some instruments or parts with panoramic (at different "sides" of the audio space). For this, the DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations, audio editing software) propose to put the tracks at a certain percentage to the left or right side. In most cases, 0% means it's at the center, and 50% to the left means that the track will have a 2x stronger volume in the left ear than in the right.
The drums will have some parts that sound more on the right side of others more on the left. For example some hi-hat will be right while the crash may be on the left. The bass is usually placed at the center.
For guitars, a good idea is to place one on the left and one on the right. You can also add one at the center, with a lower volume.
If you apply this tip along with the previous one, then you'll have to record at least twice the left guitar and twice the right guitar.
Keep in mind that instruments have a frequencies range
It is important to know that each instrument has its own range of frequencies. Each instrument has a specific purpose and you have to respect it (and even use it to your advantage!) An essential tool to adjust this parameter is the EQ. Let's see how to adjust it.
Drums should mark the beat, it uses a wide range of frequencies. The kick will be more present in the low frequencies and will highlight the rhythm together with the bass. The cymbals are in the higher frequencies. The snare will be in the mid frequencies, or even a bit higher to mark the most important part of the rhythm.
Bass should provide support to the rhythm in the bass frequencies. Indeed, rhythm guitars are present in medium to high frequencies, but less in the low frequencies. It is therefore necessary to add a low component to the riffs. To better understand the role of the bass, try to mute the bass track in a song, you will see that it sounds way more empty and flat. So, for your bass tracks, accentuate the lower frequencies. Feel free to add some higher frequencies too, it can also give an interesting effect.
Finally, guitars should be an important part of the sound spectrum, and will be present at medium and high frequencies (at low frequencies too, but way less). It is up to you to opt for guitars more or less at high frequencies or instead add low frequencies to them to enhance bass.
An important point about guitars is not to overlook their midrange. If you want massive guitars, consider increasing slightly their mids. Though, be careful to find the right balance with the vocals, which will be very present in the medium frequencies.
Use effects, but not too much
With your DAW, you can add as many effects as you want, independently to each track. This is very useful if you forgot to use an effect on the amp you used for your guitars for example.
A good idea is to add some reverb to your instruments. It will give more identity, more atmosphere to your song. But, chose wisely the amount of effect you add, as if you do not put enough you will not hear it, and if you put too much it will not sound good either.
On guitar solos, add reverb, or chorus (or both). You can also apply a delay effect.
There are tons of other effects, so try new ones, play with settings and find the settings you prefer!
Take a break
Here's one precious tip. Take breaks. Regularly. Why? Simply because after spending some time listening to the song, adjusting effects, re-listening to the record, and so on, you will quickly become unable to judge what you hear. In fact, you'll get used to what you hear, forgetting your references, your marks. By listening again and again this track you are changing, you forget where you want to go and which final result you expected. You get used to hearing certain frequencies and certain effects, so you will not be able to judge correctly anymore.
Take a break every 30 minutes at least. Enjoy the silence for 5 minutes, get up and relax. Do not listen to other music or watch TV with sound on, just enjoy the silence. Let your ears have some rest.
When you will return to the work, the piece of song you are working on will sound really different compared to what you heard before the break.
Also, before making the final rendering of the song, don't forget to take a break to be sure you'll have the best result.
Do not spend too much time on a project
You will quickly see that you can always make a small change to the mix. There will always be an effect to adjust, the EQ to improve, the volume of a track to change etc...
For that reason, you should be able, after a certain time spent on a song, to stop there, and make the final rendering.
So, no, your song might not be perfect yet, but do you really think the small additional tweak you could have done would have changed a lot to the song in the end?
This advice is essential if you do not want to spend hours on one song and if you want to be productive.
To conclude this article, the best advice I can give you is to experiment. Spend time exploring the possibilities available to you, discover new effects, new techniques. It is the only way you can create a unique style to your recordings and mixes.
Also remember to listen to your project a few weeks or even months after you've finished them. You'll find that you will hear things that can be improved, and you'll be able to use these improvements in your future projects.
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