All Posts by Luis Diaz

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Dynamic Range Basics

When we think of dynamics in music, we refer to the variations in loudness of a musical composition. Composers use terms known as dynamic markings to differentiate between quiet and loud passages. Performers naturally strive to take the listener through an emotional journey through the use of these loudness differences.

Think about a song with a quiet intro, the verse starts to build as it unfolds a story, and then it hits the chorus a bit louder… As the song progresses you notice that the intensity increases and decreases. These differences between the loudest and quietest portions of a song are what we refer to as dynamic range.

As mixing engineers, we have the choice of highlighting these emotions by increasing or decreasing the dynamic range through the use of various techniques and tools. We’ve got to be very careful approaching this dynamic range manipulation since we really don’t want to remove all the emotion from a mix.

Consider the Song’s Natural Dynamics and Loudness:

It is important to consider the material at hand. As we know, the dynamic range of a symphony for example, is considerably different than that of a dance track! Therefore, we try to keep things in context.

Listen to a song and try to identify the loudness differences between each section of a song. If you are the mixing engineer, think about how you could enhance these differences. For example, using automation to make the verses quieter, choruses louder… Making the bridge section intensity different than everything else in the song. Simulating crescendos or decrescendos during transitions from section to section. Ask yourself if it would be necessary to ride the main fader (2mix fader, or master fader) or just some of the individual elements such as the lead vocal, or a guitar part, etc.?

How to Use Dynamic Range to Benefit Your Mix:

A common example of dynamic range manipulation is riding a vocal track. Because sometimes a vocalist may fall below or above the accompaniment volume, we may find it necessary to ride the volume fader to keep it in focus.

Another way of manipulating dynamic range is through the use of tools such as compressors, limiters, etc. The idea with this kind of manipulation is to control and/or reshape transients and (in the end) have more control over the sound’s impact at a micro level. A discussion on the use of compression or limiting or any other device for controlling dynamic range deserves its own attention and will be discussed separately.

It is extremely important to ensure this manipulation is not obvious to the listener (regardless of the technique used). Most times, if a performance is solid and conveys the message as intended, subtle changes should be enough.

How have you used dynamic range to help add emotion to a song? Let us know in the comments below! Until next time…happy mixing!

Mixing Tools: The Bus (Part 2 – Sends)

In the first part of our discussion about using the Bus system in your DAW, we talked about creating submixes (routing the main outputs of different sources to a single track). Now we’ll discuss another common way of using buses to send a “copy” of the output signal to additional locations.

Using a bus for this purpose allows you to have a separate fader to send the same signal to an auxiliary track while keeping independent control over the original track, thus giving you the ability to blend them as needed.

Understanding how to use these tools will open up a world of creativity and will help you explore different ways to even save some processing power in your system while mixing complex projects.

Different Kinds of Sends

2 keywords to remember when using sends: Pre-Fader & Post-Fader. In a Pre-Fader send, the level is totally independent from the track fader. In Post-Fader send the track fader will affect the level, for example, changing the fader position will change the amount being sent to that send.

(Here is a great article from Graham at the Recording Revolution about pre-fader vs. post fader.)

Setting up a Headphone mix using Pre-Fader Sends

In practice, we can use sends to configure a monitor mix. Say you have a mix coming through your monitors while tracking a few background singers at once. More than likely, each one will want to have a mix in their headphones set to their taste.

For example, maybe the tenor singer doesn’t want to hear the drums too loud, or the lady doing the alto part can not stand having the guitar part as loud as her voice in her headphone mix…and the list goes on… So you’ll need to come up with different mixes!

You can accomplish this using sends set to pre-fader so the mix changes you make while monitoring in the control room will not affect the settings and levels you have adjusted for the background singers.

Setting up a reverb send using Post-Fader Sends

On the other hand, when using sends to send the signal to a reverb Aux Input track for example, we will want to use our sends set to post-fader so we can control how much we want to blend in between the dry and wet signal.

Setting up a reverb send using Post-Fader Sends

Remember to use pre-fader when using sends to create different monitor mixes so you’ll have more independent control without changing your main mix and use post-fader when setting up reverbs, delays or any other parallel effects so the fader will affect how much signal is being sent.

Mixing tools: The Bus (Part 1- Submix)

In this article we discuss the basics of the Bus concept inside your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) or mixing board.

One function of a Bus is to provide a way in which you can combine multiple sources (audio tracks) and send to a single location. This is known as creating a submix.

Lets say for example, that you have recorded drums using multiple microphones (Kick, Snare, Hi Tom, Floor Tom, Overheads and Room mics) and you’d like to combine them all into one stereo track. Or perhaps you want to create a submix that serves as a stem mix (we will discuss stem mixing separately).

The idea of using submixes, in general, is to group things that belong together. So, you can submix background vocals, doubled acoustic guitar parts, or in an orchestral setting you might want to create a different submix for brass, woodwinds, strings, percussion, etc.

The benefits of using the Bus system in your DAW for submixing as described above are many. It gives you the ability to simplify extensive track counts into fewer faders for a more manageable and easier mixing process. (Here’s a podcast episode that talks about bus processing)

It is important that you understand how to create a Bus in your DAW and how to route sources properly. We encourage you to name your busses in order to avoid issues caused by unintentionally routing different tracks to the same Bus, possibly resulting in problems difficult to troubleshoot if you’re not careful.

How do you create a submix?

First, choose which tracks you want to group together. Say… Kick, Snare, Toms, Overheads and Room mics for this…

Then create an Aux track and name it (Drum Sub for example).

Select a Bus (Bus 1-2 or Drums – if you named it!) as your Aux track’s input.

Now, select the Kick, Snare, Toms, OH & Room track outputs and route to that same Bus (Bus 1-2 or Drums).

Creating a drum Sub mix using Aux track, bus

Now you can not only control your overall drums level with one single fader during mixing, but also insert effects such as EQ or Compression to affect all drum tracks as a single unit.

Next time we’ll discuss another application using the Bus concept using sends and returns…

Happy mixing!

Question: What are some Creative ways that you have used a SubMix or an Aux Input Track?

submix bus

Noise Gate Basics

Noise GateAn often overlooked dynamic processor is the noise gate. Basically, a noise gate (or gate for short) is normally used to keep out any unwanted noise like hum coming out of a guitar amp when it’s not playing, ring from toms when they aren’t being played, a click track coming through a pair of open back headphones while recording a vocal track, etc. You can set it up so it allows only the desired sound to pass through, “gating” the rest.

It works by setting a threshold above the noise we’re trying to get rid of, but still below the sound we are trying to hear.

An Example of a Properly Set Noise Gate:

Let’s use the example of speech recorded in a room where noise is coming from the air conditioning vent. We set the threshold slightly above the air conditioner noise while carefully keeping it below the speech’s average level. You’ll need to adjust this to your taste and what you are trying to achieve. When the voice sound stops, and the signal drops below the threshold, the gate closes therefore rejecting the noise.

Some of the Controls on a Noise Gate Are:

Threshold:
Sets the level at which an input signal must fall before the gate closes.

Ratio:
Normally you’ll set at high values in most cases at 100:1 for it to act as a gate.

Attack:
How fast the gate fully opens up.

Release:
How fast it closes down.

Hold:
How long does the gate stays open.

Range (also known as Floor in some plugins such as Waves C1):
Adjust this parameter if you’d like to hear some of the unwanted signal coming through. The lower the range, the less sound the gate allows to be heard.

Closing Thoughts:

Besides keeping noise out, a noise gate can also be used creatively to shape transients and change a particular sound’s character. Once you have the gate controls set, change the attack and release controls and listen to how the sound responds. With a slow attack, you’ll hear something similar to a volume swell for example.

Later, we’ll see how we can use a noise gate through a sidechain to create some intriguing and more sophisticated effects such as ducking, or adding a rhythmic pattern to a keyboard pad, and more. Stay tuned to MixCoach for that!

Noise Gate Basics

Understanding Delay Effects, Part 3

Delay Effect TrackNow that we have discussed the main differences between different delay settings, let’s put it into practice.

Lets say you’re trying to fatten up a vocal track:

Create an aux track and insert a stereo delay effect. If you prefer, you can just insert the delay effect on the track itself and adjust the mix (wet/dry) to taste. However, sending your source to an aux track offers more flexibility and it is easier to manipulate.

Next, set different time settings for each side of the delay unit or plugin, keeping them around 20- 40ms. Make sure your delayed signals are panned hard left and right. Using the track’s send fader adjust until you start hearing the effect. Make sure the unit’s mix control is set to 100% since you are using the send fader to take care of the dry/wet aspect. (If you decided to use the effect as an insert on the track, adjust the mix on the effect itself). Try different feedback values and see what you can come up with!

Slap-back Delay:

Another common use of delay, as I mentioned earlier in this series, is the slap-back effect. Follow the steps mentioned above but with delay times above 35ms all the way to around 350 ms. Adjust the feedback level to a single repetition and wet/dry to taste. You’ll soon hear many familiar sounds as heard in some music of the 40’s and 50’s, surf music, etc. However, depending on how you tweak your settings, you’ll find that slap-back delay can be very useful for adding depth and richness to a vocal or instrument.

That U2 Delay Sound:

If you are trying to get that U2 sound on a guitar track that was recorded without a delay effect. Use the Tempo Sync function in your plugin and set the delay to a dotted eighth note for example, then hear and see what happens and whether or not it works.

Flanging and Phase Shifts:

Delay effects can also be used for creating flanging (10-20ms delay time) and phase shifting (1-3ms).

A word of caution! When using delay times below 15ms, comb filtering will result more than likely. So, if you are concerned about phase cancellation caused by your delay settings, you might want to double check your mix in mono and see how it is affecting your overall signal.

Concluding Thoughts:

As with everything in mixing, the use of the techniques and tools available to us are very helpful but, it is your dedication, practice and experimentation that will help you get the results you are after and continuously improve your craft.

Have you used these techniques to create cool sounding delay effects?

Understanding Delay Effects, Part 2

Last post, I gave you an overview of the different types of delay effects, let’s discuss some of the specific delay parameters (settings).

Delay Time

This setting is the time between the original signal and the delayed signal. (This is where you would refer back to the last article and choose your delay time setting according to the type of effect you want)

Mix or Dry/Wet

Balance between the delayed or “wet” (delayed) signal and the original signal.

Feedback

The amount of feedback coming back to the delay input. It controls the number of repetitions of the delayed signal.

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Additional Delay Settings and Parameters May Include:

Other delay settings exist depending on the hardware unit or plugin available to you.

Input or Gain

How much signal coming into the device. You’d adjust this setting to prevent clipping.

LPF (Low-Pass Filter)

Set this delay parameter to control the cutoff frequency of the Low-Pass Filter. For example: to attenuate the high frequency content of the feedback (delayed) signal, lower it’s value. The lower the setting, the more high frequencies are attenuated.

Tempo Sync

This delay setting allows you to specify a note value (say an eighth note) and the delay unit or plugin will automatically calculate and set the delay time based on the song tempo and will stay in sync giving you precise time repetitions based on the selected note value.

Some delays even have a Meter setting in the tempo section… where you can tell the delay unit whether your song is in 4/4, 3/4 etc…

Depth

If your delay unit offers modulated delay,  you might see this delay parameter. It controls how much modulation is applied to the signal.

Rate

Controls the rate of the modulation (chorus for example) applied to the delayed signal.

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If you are new to using delay effects, I suggest you try playing around with the basic settings first (Time, Mix, and Feedback) before you move on to the settings involving modulated delays etc…

In our next installment we put what we’ve learned about Delay Effects into some practical use.

Delay Setting Signal

Understanding Delay Effects, Part 1

In this series, I will discuss some of the most common types of delay fx and how to use delay effects to achieve a range of task specific results. Many times people think of delay as a kind of ‘echo” effect. But delay can also be used to create effects not necessarily associated with “echo”.

In this first part of the discussion I will describe the main differences between delay times. As well as cover the results obtainable through the use of short, slap-back, and long delay settings.

Short delay

Short delay times create effects such as chorusing (or doubling), flanging etc… You can take advantage of short delay settings working in stereo. They can help bring width to a mono signal by opening up the center so you can allow other instruments or voices occupy that space.

Slap-back delay

Slap-back is a short delay with a single repeat. It can be used to create a sense of space. Not necessarily a wide open space, but very much like a small/medium room type of sound.

Long delays

long delay times are the point at which you start to hear the delayed signal as a repetition of the original signal (Yes this is the “echo” we talked about earlier). There are many ways to use long delays creatively. I’ll talk more about some of these creative uses, in the next couple parts of this series.

Reverb

Yes! Reverb is a form of delay. It’s the combination of the many short delays resulting from a sound bouncing off the different surfaces in an enclosed space or room.

Over the next few parts I’ll cover each of these types of delays and their uses, in depth. Now that I’ve covered the basics of Delay FX and what they can add to music, I can discuss delay parameters and how to use them in the next article!

Delay Effects Delay FX

Interview with Mastering Engineer Matthew Gray

Matthew Gray is one of the most sought after mastering engineers in Australia and all over the world. His client list includes: top Australian bands Drawn From Bees and The Middle East, UK artist Pixie Lott, Michelle Branch, Hillsong, and many others. Besides his world-class mastering services, Matt is also an accomplished musician. He has also earned national and international recognition as a radio producer.

Today, Matthew Gray shares with MixCoach.com some invaluable insights on the highly sophisticated art of audio mastering. We cannot express our gratitude for his kindness and generosity spending some of his invaluable time to share with our MixCoach.com readers.

For more information about Matthew Gray as well as his excellent and affordable mastering services visit: MatthewGrayMastering.com

Luis: What do you consider is your role as a mastering engineer? How important is the mastering engineer’s contribution to music production in general?

Matt: I believe the role of mastering varies depending on what’s required of the job. Some inexperienced clients often rely on mastering to complete the shortfalls of a mix. Sometimes this means stem mixing or using other techniques to get into the mix more. They’re also looking for a Continue reading

Mixing The Band Webinar

A little longer than a week now, MIX Magazine offered a free webinar (sponsored by Universal Audio) with some of the top engineers/ mixers/ producers in the world: Joe Chiccarelli (U2, The White Stripes, The Killers), Michael Brauer (Coldplay, John Mayer, The Rolling Stones) and Ryan West (Eminem, Kanye West) etc.

These gentlemen discussed topics related to their work flows and mixing philosophies in general. From their set ups to their procedures when they first open up a project and how they approach different stages of the mixing process; its a very nice experience to hear these engineers share their insights. I personally learned quite a bit ,like for example, how most of them use parallel compression to enhance dynamics in different instruments (not just Drums/bass as is most commonly known!) instead of squashing things out. Michael Brauer gets a little bit into his ‘Brauerize’ technique also. There are so many inspiring subjects…

I have already tried some of the things these guys talk about and let me tell you, it has refueled me to keep going and try new things!!! So, if you are serious about your mixing skills and trying to learn more about it, I encourage you to listen to it. Mix Magazine was kind enough to send out an email to those of us who attended so we can share the archived version link with you.

I think you’ll need to fill out a basic registration form in order to get access to it, once you do that you’ll be able to watch as many times as you want (I’ve watched it 3 times already lol!) Go check it out and share your findings with us down here in the comments box!!!

Here’s the link:
https://intercallus.reg.meeting-stream.com/newbaymediallc_092911/

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂

Luis

 

Mix Bus Compression: Should I Use It?

picture of an SSL mixbus compressor

There are different schools of thought when it comes to the use of compression in a 2-track mix bus. It seems to turn into a hot debate every time I see engineers discussing stereo bus compression. Some consider it necessary in order to ‘glue the tracks together’ while others prefer to totally avoid it.  Then, there are mastering engineers who will usually advice that you leave the 2-mix bus alone so there’s room for them to do their job…

In our case here, lets say we choose to go with it. Most engineers I’ve known will usually insert the compressor right from the start of the mix or at least early enough once the basic levels, panning etc. are set. The reason why they avoid just slapping a compressor at the end of the mix is simply because it will more than likely change most of the balance they have carefully worked on as they developed the mix.

Different types of compressors can be used. A description on the different kinds of compressors especially analog types such as FET, Optical, VCA and Variable Mu, is beyond the scope of this discussion.  Many engineers mixing ‘in-the-box’ favor the use of plug-ins that emulate some of the most popular hardware units like the SSL Bus Compressor, the API 2500 or the Fairchild 670, etc.

Mix-bus compressor settings

When setting up the bus compressor, it is important to keep in mind the groove of the song and dial in attack and release settings that correspond to the overall timing of the song.  The wrong settings could cause some undesirable artifacts such as pumping and loss of important transient information resulting in a dark and lifeless sound.

A good way to set the mix-bus compressor when beginning a mix is to determine what elements are driving the groove of the song. It may be the drums or perhaps a guitar riff… Just find something that has a strong role in accentuating the main rhythmic element of the groove. With a fast attack and a high ratio, start lowering the threshold until you see some gain reduction happening. Carefully change the release time and take a look at the gain reduction meter while trying to make it bounce with the pulse of your track. Some compressors include an auto-release function, which in most cases will do the job for you! Give it a try and listen if it works… Finally adjust the attack in order to let the desired amount of initial transient information through. Using a snare drum for example, if it starts to sound kind of dark and flat, there’s a chance your attack is too fast.

Once you get some initial settings, go back and set the ratio to 1.5:1 – 2:1 and readjust the threshold accordingly. You are looking for preferably not more than 2-3 dB of gain reduction. However, your taste and the desired sound will determine how much gain reduction you need.

Final thoughts

Whether you decide to use it or not, its just a matter of your working style and needs. Personally, I feel mix-buss compression has its place and time. Overuse, just as anything else, could yield negative results.

Anyway, if you decide to use it, experiment going into the compressor from the beginning instead of inserting it after the mix is completed. Once all settings are in place, avoid changing and/or altering parameters while you mix. Use the output/gain/make-up control to compensate for the gain reduction; match the level to that of the uncompressed sound so you can accurately compare as you bypass the compressor to find out whether is helping or hurting the mix.

Last but not least, if you are planning on sending your mix to a mastering engineer, keep in mind that they do prefer a clean, uncompressed stereo mix so they can use their highly sophisticated gear and techniques to achieve a final polished sound. Too much compression in your overall mix will limit what your mastering engineer can do to help your final product.

Question: Do you use mix-bus compression at all? If you do, can you share with us how you go about it?