Now that you’ve recorded all the instruments and put down solid vocals, it’s time to get to the meat of the recording process: mixing and editing the music down to a two track wave file that can be burned on a CD or converted to an mp3.
There are a lot of different tricks and tools associated with mixing, and there are entire schools devoted to teaching the art to people who want to become professional engineers. However, there are some simple techniques that every engineer will want to work on.
Before beginning to mix your song, consider how true stereo recordings work. A good stereo will reproduce a stereo image which can give listener some sense of the instruments in a three dimensional soundstage in front of them. Typically, the drums and vocals will be in the middle, the guitars and keyboards will be off to one side, and the bass will match the kick drum in the middle. A well produced song will enable the listener to close their eyes and “see” the performers on a stage in their room.
This type of stereo imaging is accomplished through the use of panning in your audio software. Using the pans also enables you to keep similar frequencies from interfering with each other and creating a mushy or muddy sounding recording.
Again, start with the kick drum and the bass. While it is possible to create a small sense of space with these instruments, our ears can’t glean location information from low frequencies. If you have properly recorded the drums by assigning different parts of the kit to separate tracks, you can start by panning the bass and the kick drum to the center. Lead vocals should also go dead center. If your mix has backing vocals, you can apply a little panning to the left or right to create an interesting effect and give some separation to the singers.
If you have two guitars in your mix, or a guitar and a keyboard, pan one to each side; don’t do a hard pan (panning an instrument all the way to one side) however, as that can be distracting to the listener. Remember, the idea is to create a virtual soundstage that sounds natural to the listener.
One trick is to use reverb, delay, EQ, and volume levels to create a sense of depth in the mix. Reverb plug-ins are designed to mimic the sound of an instrument in a space, and are usually described by the size of the hall they are trying to mimic. Delay is basically an echo, or repetition, of the sound. EQ changes the frequency response.
For instance, you can apply reverb to one of the backing vocals to make it seem that the vocals are coming from a space behind and to one side of the lead singer. Experiment with the different reverb effects of your software to figure out the best way to do this; you’ll find that you can’t just use one reverb setting all the time. Delay plug-ins can also accomplish this. You can use EQ to boost certain frequencies and make them stand out more, or to squash them and make them fade more. When combined with the use of reverb or delay, this will create a sense of space in your mix.
BY THE WAY… if you find that any of this isn’t going deep enough down the rabbit hole for you, you need to visit my buddy Joe Gilder’s Home Studio Corner. He goes deep and when he’s finished with you, you will be a pro – not kidding (tell him Corey at Musicgoat said hi).