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How to Make a Mix Sound Better

When making a mix sound better, equalize desired frequencies into saturation - this causes stronger harmonics related to those amplified frequencies. Additionally, tailor your reverb for each instrument, including snare and kick, to increase sustain, while introducing bus reverb to create a cohesive sound.

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Humanize Midi Data

The steps in the video are in order, but use them as you see fit in your mixes.

Sometimes when mixing you have to work with midi data - if it sounds unnatural, it’ll be challenging to mix no matter what. If you find your midi sounds programmed in, due to quantization, identical velocities, and so on, use the Humanize preset in Midi Transform.

First, double click your midi track, then under functions find midi transform, then humanize.

The default settings should work well.

Let’s listen to midi that’s programmed, then processed with this function.

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Use EQ then Saturate to Brighten

If you want to make an instrument brighter, but lacks high frequencies, to begin with, use an EQ to boost the highest available frequencies present. Then, introduce a saturator after the EQ, ideally one that has some high-frequency saturation function, like PSP’s saturator plugin.

By emphasizing the highs with an EQ, then saturating them, we create harmonics that fill in the high-frequency range, in turn brightening the signal.

Let’s take a listen.

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Amplify Percussion Fundamental & Harmonics

Before you start to compress, saturate or reverberate your drums, insert equalizers and amplify their fundamental and important higher frequencies that relate to the fundamental. For example, on the kick, I boosted the most powerful part, or the fundamental, then amplified some of the kick by boosting a harmonic or overtone.

I like to do this with snare, toms, claps, and so on. Let’s listen to how this makes the sound slightly more powerful and musical, and know that it sets us up well for future processing on the drums.

Let’s take a listen

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Bring Vocal Forward With Compression

This is a known tip, but really important - use a softer knee, 4:1 ratio, 2ms lookahead, quick attack, 50ms release, and automatic makeup gain to capture the vocal and pull its quieter details forward. Using some form of processing like this is crucial to getting a powerful vocal.

Let’s listen to how this processor increases vocal detail.

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Special Compression for Kick

Similar to the last chapter, we’re going to use special compression settings but this time on the kick. To do this, I’d recommend an 1176 compressor or emulation - with it we’ll increase the input until compression occurs, and reduce the attack and release speed to the fastest settings.

This both compresses the kick and adds distinct sounding distortion to the transients due to the quick attack and release.

Let’s listen to what this emulation does.

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Tailor Reverb for Percussion

Reverb on percussion is incredibly helpful, especially if you’re using samples - for example, the snare sample in this track cuts off early and unnaturally - reverb helps fix this by making it less noticeable. For the kick, I can use reverb with a longer decay on the lows to increase sustain.

Let’s listen to these 2 reverbs being added and notice how they increase the length of the samples in a natural-sounding way.

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Absolutely Use Bus Reverb and Compression

If you haven’t already been doing this, you need to send similar instruments to buses by changing their output to a collective bus. For example, all of my drums are going to the same bus, as are my instruments, and my lead has a bus for reasons we’ll discuss later.

On these buses, collective reverb and compression will help create a cohesive sound and help you achieve a powerful mix. Typically I find various room emulations work well for this, especially studio room emulations, and only a couple dB of compression is needed.

Let’s take a listen to this being added on the drum and instrument busses.

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Add Power with Upward Processing

If I’ve already added my compression, saturation, and so on, and I find I still am lacking some power, I’ll start to introduce upward processing like the wave’s MV2 or the Oxford Inflator. For the drums and instruments, I’m going to add the inflator and increase the effect while reducing the input.

Let’s listen and notice how this fills out the sound.

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Keep Vocal’s Temporal Effects Separate

Instead of adding reverb and delay to the vocal directly, I’m going to use sends so that each effect is separate and can be processed separately. For example, the first send is to a stereo delay, which afterwords I added EQ to shape the delay taps, and then compression.

The compression made the delay more prominent and fuller sounding. I did the same for a short vocal reverb, and a long vocal reverb, all of which use the same compression settings to create cohesion.

Let’s listen to these effects, and consider the advantages of keeping them separate from one another.

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Equalize and Saturate all Vocal Signals

The 3 sends that I created in the last chapter, will be routed to the vocal bus - on this bus I’ll first insert an EQ to shape the entirety of the vocal, by adding some more of the fundamental, and a little more of 2kHz. Then I’ll saturate everything collectively as well.

Although it seems unorthodox to saturate your reverb, and delay, combining all of the vocal channels with some subtle saturation really creates cohesion and keeps the time-based effects from sounding separate from the main vocal.

Listen take a listen to this EQ and saturation being added.

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Don’t Use Gullfoss On Drums

The Gullfoss EQ is a great tool but I’d avoid using it on drums or a drum bus due to how it affects transients - I do think it sounds great on an instrument bus though. That said, I’ll add it to the instrument bus.

Last up, I’m going to do something similar to what I did on the vocal bus, and place one last EQ on the instrumental and the drum bus. On the drums I’ll amplify the side image’s highs - on the instrumental bus I’ll amplify around 300Hz on the side image.

This will help increase the stereo width of the mix and make it more interesting.

Let’s take a listen to the Gullfoss EQ, and these M/S EQs being added.

Then let’s listen to a full before and after of the mix with all of the points we discussed here being added in.

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