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Recording studio and recording workflow, mixing

The sound studio recording is a process in itself. And it is important that the song structure is built up like you want it. Some songs require you to be more mindful of the live feel of the song. Other songs, need to be built up step-by-step. In order to come up with a good idea for a recording, it is better that this song is well structured - so that you do not waste time to cut / paste stuff.

I should preface this whole article by saying that - obviously - the song-writing is the most important thing, even more inportant than the production and sound engineering itself. So, even though in this article I will focus a lot on my mixing advice and lessons learned when it comes to producing a song, the most important part is the song-writing process itself.

All the mix advice and engineering stuff that you find on this page - interesting though it may be - will only "play second fiddle" to the song itself, pun intended.

Having said that, here are my thoughts regarding the recording studio, music production and mixing songs:

Before recording: The importance of pre-production!

I learned from my mentor Manny Charlton about the importance of planning the recording session, in particular working on arrangeemnts prior to going into the studio to record. This is where you can try out what tempo to use, what is the best key for the voice, what guitars / pedals / amps and other equipment to bring in order to produce the sound that you want. It is helpful to read the lyrics and the song-writing notes that you made during the song writing process. For example, what guitar are you going to use to record with? did you record a version on this on the iPhone, or another device? Also, take the time to write down the lyrics again and make sure they are clearly written & all make sense vs. the song tempo etc. Once the song structure is ready (along with the tempo) I find it useful to record a "guide-track" in the DAW, by recording a rough song on guitar and vocal. The song arrangement can also include thoughts about what audio frequencies that the instrumentation will occupy. A well arranged song can save a lot of work later when it comes to the mixing process in particular.

At this pre-production stage, it is also worth being mindful of "keeping the vibe" that you had during the song-writing process. Did the original inspiration come from a certain riff, or a specific sound? Oftentimes, in the studio, guitar riff might be recorded with a much cleaner or pristine guitar tone than the "dirty distorted" sound you had during the songwriting. It might be that the songwriting session produced the better guitar tone. So, it is worth spending some extra time on the sound in the studio / instead wasting time to recording something that sound life-less from the outset.


Made the right choice with UAD Luna - as my Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)

As I was looking into what Audio software to get to record and mix songs, I looked at various things including Pro Tools, Cubase, Ableton, Logic Pro, etc. Though I understand that people with a long history in the recording business have familarised themselves with older systems like Cubase or Pro Tools (which is almost an industry standard), I quickly saw the value with the newcomer UAD Luna. Having worked in the software industry (not recording related) for a long time, I know that there are bound to be compatibility issues when releasing versions etc with the key plug-in manufacturers. And those compatibility issues can be very annoying for end-users (who often have to trawl discussion forums for hours to find solutions). Since UAD is making some of the best plug-ins around, I figured that UAD Luna would at least always be compatible with those plug-ins. Initially, I wanted only to use one other plug-in company (Waves - which is an industry standard also) so this is a conscientious decision to stay "in the box" as much as possible, avoiding using outboard gear (except for using high quality Mic-Pre-Amps - Neve 1073 and an Avalon 737 to record through). So, I basically have an Apollo x8 Audio interface together with a new Macbook Pro (laptop). Though I know some of the features with Luna has not yet reached what is possible with Pro Tools, I am such a novice, that I would not miss those features anyway. And I want to have a future-proof system, rather than a big legacy solution. My good friend and mentor Manny Charlton (Nazareth) was advocating using Cubase (Manny had used this since its inception) so he was used to that system, but for me - the recording process in Luna closely resembles the old style of working - but with a fantastic interface.

About sound proofing your studio.

Due to space limitations, I have my TV monitor screen standing in too close proximity to the powered Yamaha speakers. This makes the speakers buzz slightly, and I have to remember to turn them off when recording vox or acoustic guitars especially (as the vox mic is at the desk). This is obviously not ideal, as I have to remember to turn speakers off when recording vocals. However, as I have limited space to work with, I have to live with this, and there are also ways to treat the audio signal (ne-noisers, or Waves Clarity plugin to mention good EQ examples). However, keeping in mind my small studio set-up, I mostly record one (or max two) instruments at the same time so, this is not a major issue for me.

In the studio: how to make your recording workflow easy

Nothing is more annoying than getting a great creative idea, then having to spend hours trying to ready your studio-environment for the recording; setting up the microphone, finding the cable, plug the guitar it into the amplifier, find the right effect pedal, select the right microphone and then select the correct mic-pre-amp. Before you know, that creative spark has been and gone! So, in my studio I have my preferred vocal microphone already set up, so I can record a vocal simply by switching on the Avalon pre-amp. Similarly, I can switch that over to line (and the bass-cable is already plugged in) making it just as easy to add a bass-part. And ditto for the guitars: I can simply plug in the guitar, switch on the amp and the mic-pre and record straight away (the guitar cable is ready at the desk, already plugged in). I use the Shure SM58 microphone for all my guitar recordings, going into the Neve 1073 pre-amp (except acoustic guitars, where I use the Neumann mic together with the Avalon pre-amp). One overlooked thing is also - how to tune the guitars quickly - find a tuner that can easily clip on to the headstock, without the need to plug into, and power up a pedal.. and keep your guitars within easy reach(!). It is surprising how even small things like these will help you when it comes to avoid loosing the initial creative spark. For the drum parts, I am recording on-site (or in various studios) real drums, or use the BFD drum plugin - and program these myself on the occasion where this is required. It was Manny Charlton (the Nazareth songwriter/ producer/ guitarist) who got me onto BFD plug-in, and a lot of the ideas here, so credit where credit is due!

Create a Template in your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) - and color-code the different tracks

After watching Chris Lord Alge's Master Class on YouTube (he is the producer/ mixer behind Green Day and many others), I totally understood the value of always following the same Template.

This means that you always know how the track is set up whenever you move to record/mix different songs. Adding color-codes to the different tracks makes it very easy to move between different projects (whilst saving time to figure out how the song is built up). I started this way of organising things in Feb. 2022, to save time when working across different projects inside my DAW (which is UAD Luna). So the way I am set up:

Pre-load plugins (with settings) in the DAW Template - for an even quicker mix workflow!
Furthermore, when it comes to the template inside the DAW, I have set this up so that the effects that I have learned to like, already comes pre-loaded each time. This means that I can mix the song even faster, without having to find / load and manipulate the same plug-ins over again. So, for example, the bass track is already set up with the standard mix 6 band EQ (to keep the bass out of the way of the Kick drum), as well as the Ampeg bass amp (including my preferred amp-settings). Though I can still tweak the settings each time if I want, but find that these pre-sets makes the mixing job much faster. The new version of LUNA 1.3 allows you to set pre-sets for all your plugins, so that you can secure a fast workflow.

Use parallel compression - alongside all BUS files - to blend the compressed signal with the BUS
Andrew Scheps advocates using parallel compression on the entire sections of the song (including the drums), and blend that in with the main tracks in order to increase the perceived volume level. By blending in the compressed signal, the top of the track will not be affected, but the lower volume stuff will be increased within your mix, making it sound "like a record". The only way I have found to enable this, is to (when the song is finished) print out the Wav of the drums, import that Wav file and then compress this, and blend this file in with the Drum BUS (do not sent to the Drum BUS, but instead have it alongside it). Same principle can be applied to vocal etc. Thus, I have created this compressor file in my DAW, which have the fave compressors for Vocal, Guitar, Bass, Drums etc.

In this YouTube tutorial, Rick Beato explains how compression works, including explaining terms such as: Ratio, Threshold, Attack, Release, Hard-Knee, Soft Knee, Gain Reduction. He also covers plugin and hardware versions of compressors such as the LA2A, Universal Audio 1176, SSL G Series, Fairchild 660 and 670. It is the best explanation of compression that I have found, as it shows how to compress and what to use compressors on incl. Kick Drum, Snare, Toms, Overheads, Room Mic and Drum Buss Compression incl. examples of using compression plugins in individual Instruments and the Mix BUS. 


Lesson 2 = General advice on Mixing songs

Once your song has been recorded, it is time to do the mixing. This is where you can really make a lot of difference to the finish product; making every track lives up to the best of its potential. This extensive "Lesson 2 - mixing" section will start with an introduction and a summary of what to keep in mind ref. Mixing songs. Afterwards, I will go into detail and elaborate on each instrumentaion, providing mixing advice on vocals, guitars, bass and drums - including granular mixing advice, lessons learned, favorite plugins to use, intermixed with links to useful resources, including some great instructional YouTube videos.

A good song will produce itself
During the mixing stage, you will quickly become aware of the importance of the pre-production and the arrangements, or lack thereof. A well-arranged song will be very easy to mix, whereas a poorly planned / arranged song will be harder to mix, with a lot of instrumentation competing for audio frequencies within the mix. If you have a good song, it will sound good with only few instrumentation parts. You will add a million overdubs to a bad song, and it will still sound "average" (even with the best mixer in the world).

Tell a story, bring in new parts, build the song up.
Every song tells a story. Look at the lyrics, what is the meaning of the song? is it sad, is it angry, is it about your new love; what does it say? The mix should reflect the anger (or whatever emotion the song is about). And, it is important to constantly evolve the song, so that each chorus adds something. If the chorus just repeats itself and has the same parts each time, it will get boring. The last chorus should really stand out - somehow, either with vocals or added parts, whatever they may be.

Learning the importance of Song Arrangement?
One general advice is therefore to spend time to get the arrangement right at the outset. Another strategy when it comes to the song arrangement is to try to focus on "what is important" in that song, and hone in on that area to create an arrangement of instruments and vocals that will come best out in the final mix. A way to figure out what is important: try to sing the melody of the whole song - humming the guitar parts, the chorus, etc - once you have this focus on the overall melody with your voice, this is where you discover the important parts, and subsequently you can decide on the how to arrange the song to best effect: Is it going to be the guitar that is playing this part of the key melody vs. the bass vs. vocals etc.

So, in short, the better laid out your song is at the outset, the easier it is to mix later. However, having said all that:

Short sypnosis - what to keep in mind ref. Mixing?
Remember that mixing is both a technical and creative process, and it takes time and practice to develop your skills. Trust your ears, experiment, and don't be afraid to make bold decisions to create a unique and polished mix for your song. Here are some general advice to start out with:

  • Organize Your Session: Label and color-code your tracks. Group similar tracks (e.g., drums, vocals) for easier management. Use markers to highlight important song sections.

    Reference Tracks: Listen to professionally mixed songs in a similar genre to understand the sound you want to achieve. Use these as references throughout the mixing process.

    Gain Staging: Set proper gain levels for each track to avoid clipping or unnecessary noise. Use faders or gain plugins to adjust levels.

    Panning: Place instruments and vocals in the stereo field appropriately. Keep the low frequencies centered and spread higher frequencies for width. For choruses - remember to be dynamic with your panning, take guitars slightly into the centre before you want them to go out again (the human brain picks up on differences in audio, but tend to ignore sounds that stay the same through the mix)

    EQ (Equalization): Use EQ to shape the tonal balance of each track. Cut unwanted frequencies and enhance the desired ones. Use high-pass filters to remove unnecessary low-end rumble from non-bass instruments.

    Compression: Apply compression to control dynamics and add sustain to individual tracks. Use bus compression to glue together groups of instruments, like drums or vocals.

    Reverb and Delay: Use reverb and delay to add space and depth to your mix. Be subtle and avoid overuse. Consider the placement of instruments within a virtual acoustic space.

    Automation: Automate volume, panning, and effect parameters to create dynamic changes and emphasize important parts of the song.

    Use Reference Monitors and Acoustic Treatment: Invest in good studio monitors and acoustic treatment for your mixing environment. What you hear greatly affects your decisions.

    Listen at Different Levels: Check your mix at various volume levels to ensure it sounds good across different playback systems.

    Mono Compatibility: Check how your mix sounds in mono to ensure that important elements don't disappear when the mix is collapsed to a single channel.

    Spectrum Analysis: Use spectrum analyzers to visualize frequency content and identify problems like frequency clashes or excessive resonance.

    Quality Over Quantity: Focus on making each element of the mix sound great individually before blending them together.

    Take Breaks: Your ears can fatigue, so take regular breaks to maintain objectivity.

    A/B Testing: Compare your mix to reference tracks or previous versions to track your progress and make necessary adjustments.

    Collaborate and Seek Feedback: Don't hesitate to get input from others, especially if you're too close to the project.

    Backup Your Work: Regularly save and back up your mix sessions to avoid losing your progress.

Mixing Audio files - has a lot in common with mixing Image files (you can use the same process)
As I have watched a ton of production editing video's (incl. Warren Huart's Bass Mixing Advice below), I got an "A-ha" moment when I realised that mixing audio tracks in my DAW (UAD Luna) is just like editing video snippets (in Adobe Premiere Pro), or images (in Photoshop). IE. The way to mix in new effects / best practice: keep the original audio file (untouched), copy this source file, add effects to the new file and blend the two different files to create the image (or sound-image) that you want. Andrew Scheps (a guy who has produced Adele, Red Hot Chily Peppers, Metallica and more) also use this trick when using compression on the Mix BUS, allowing you to blend in a compressed signal, increasing the perceived volume. This technique is called "parallel compression", but in reality you can use this for all kinds of effects (blending in a distorted vocal together with the original vocals, etc, etc). In other words - do not add effects to the original source file/ sound; instead you copy it to a different track, then apply the effect on that - and mix it in with a master BUS track. The master BUS will then be blended to suit your exact requirements and should be perfectly blended at 0 vol, so that it does not clip. If you follow this general advice, you can always quickly compare the effects vs. the original track, making the workflow quick and easy.

The rule of 3rds - applying photo imagery rules to mixing your song?

The rule of thirds will be a familiar term for those working with photograpy. It basically states that your points of interest should line up with one of the horizontal or vertical lines. If you think about this concept and compare it to music, you can use some of the ideas apply it with good results. For example, you can divide the song in different EQ ranges (low, mid, high) and ensure that the song has interest in each, or you can use this for panning (left, centre, right) or spacial orientation (front, mid, back) to ensure that the song is balanced, and that interesting stuff happens in each part / or not, if you want to have an element of surprise in the last 3rd of the song, etc. This can be done by blurring out sounds that are "not important". IE. some sounds are up, some are down, some are left and some are right. Another example on the AudioServices site, is that you can have three distinct sections when it comes to the story line (intro, main section, outro). Where each section meets, there must be a pivot, an element of transition. The idea being that you can start start by dividing the song into equal thirds, then, divide again to have 9 sections in total, where you can plan for "things" to happen that are pleasing to the human brain. The AudioServices site has some really interesting observations on this idea, how to make your music more interesting to listen to.

What instruments are usually placed Centre
The general advice is that low frequencies should be centered and higher frequencies can be panned right and left. Thus, the typical four things that occupy the centre are usually the kick, the snare, the bass and of course the vocal. So, you can use EQ to carve out things that obstruct these elements, for example you can EQ the backing vocals, so that they do not obscure or distract for the main vocals. Same with the Kick vs. the Bass etc. You want the overall balance of the track to sound nice, allowing you to hear the most important part.

In what order should i mix the various instruments? Thoughts on the overall mix balance?

  • Try mixing in the drums last? In an interview with Andrew Scheps, Abbey Road engineer Alan Parsons (from the Alan Parsons Project) mentioned that Geoff Emmerick had a trick that involved mixing in drums last. It is the drums that gives the song energy, but it is a valid point to try to get as much dynamics and energy out of all the other instrumentation as you can first (vocals, guitars, bass, keys etc) and then mix in the drums at the very end. This is not a conventional way of doing it, as most people prefer to start with the drums and bass before moving on to other parts. There are no right answers here, but I find that you first need to listen to the drums and get those right, and then you may mute them while you work on the other tracks if you follow this strategy.

  • Get the overall balance right. In my opinion I think that all the instruments should be clearly heard in the mix, because I like the overall sound to feel natural, like it is a performance. If there is too much muddy-ness within the track (example too many guitars, or overlap between different instrumentation) then the listener will loose interest. If that is the case, it basically means that the original strategy for the different parts were lacking, or that - unintentionally - some instruments clashes with each other. You might therefore have to use EQ (separate Kick and Bass for example) or volum-ride individual tracks to make sure that each individual part get the appropriate hearing within the song (lead vocal vs backing vocals and so on). I find that most of my mixing job is to get the overall balance levels right, not clipping etc.

  • Creating spaces in your mixesl! In this "Master Your Mix Podcast - Episode 175" Matt Foster, the noted producer and mixer at EMI, talks about vocal mixing (need low end down to 100, but also boost the airiness on the 10-11k frequency area. He does focus on the volume, EQ, compression and panning (also deEssers and controlling sibilense), thereby thinking about frequencies and creating spaces in your mixes - so that the sound changes within the songs - serving the song with as little instrumentation as possible.

  • The "Slippery Fader" move: Sylvia Massey, the noted producer and mixer, explained that she learned a trick from another noted producer and mixer - Rick Rubin - about "broad strokes" improvement to a mix. For example, taking the overall volume down in the verses, and increase the volume in the chorus-part to make the overall song more dynamic. This "broad strokes" mix technique can also be applied to parallel compression to parts of your song - for example that you add a compressor to the whole mix only for the Chorus part- to make the Chorus pop out from the speakers, etc.

  • Gain staging = be consistent / to avoid problems from song-to-song! My general rule - when starting a mix, is to balance every track at 0 - so that the song sound good at the 0 balance. This is achieved by rising or lowering the actual track volume itself - so your mix sound good at 0 volume in your console or DAW. Furhtermore, it might be an idea that your gain level is actually a bit under the overall max volume, so that you have space for EQ, compressors and other effects to color the sound during the mixing. The overall mix should still be a bit under the max level at the final mix stage, to count in for compression used by the mastering engineer / process.

  • Lesson learned: the rythm guitars and the drums should have the same volum level! This is often overlooked, but I find that the track has more "purpose" if the drums and the rythm guitars has a good volume mix balance, so these tracks sound good when solo'ed together.

  • How to check if the song is finished mixed? = listen at low volume. If you try to listen to the final mix at low volume and you can hear the vocals and the bass clearly, that is USUALLY a good indicator that your overall mix balance is OK - though each rule may have song-specific deviations..

  • Remember: the song decides what to do. Manny Marroquin, the mixer behind John Mayer's "Gravity" and a lot other popular records, has a good advice when it comes to deciding the way a mix should progress. Once you get the rough mix and the producer is happy that the song is of the format it should be; as the mixer you then should start from scratch. The idea is to close your eyes, listen to what the song is trying to say. Maybe it has an emotional song lyric? Maybe it has a lovely melodic bass line? What sounds make you sad, or angry, or happy? (if you are both the producer and mixer, then leave the song for a while so you can listen to it with fresh ears). In other words, what creates an emotional reaction when you listen to the song? Once you have taken these notes, then go back to the track and try to make those emotions even stronger, for example by letting the vocals breathe more within the song, focus more on making the bass stand out, etc. This advice goes back to basic - that there are no rules, but you have to make sure that the sound out of the speakers create the emotional response that the song was created to make in the first place.

Re-record sounds (if you need to)
Sometimes, once you compress an audio-file, then you will hear some sounds or unwanted effects. Often, you can edit those away (by using Equalisers, cut/paste, etc) but sometimes you find that the original file was badly recorded at the outset. If you are in a studio environment with access to the tools (microphones, guitars, bass, etc), then it may be quicker to re-record the part you need. Think about it: a song is a collection of its parts. If some parts are badly recorded, then the song will not be as good - or at least it will take more time to "fix in the mix" in order to compensate for the bad recording. Having said that, sometimes the "performance" is the king, and if it is hard to replicate that first performance, that is the only time it is not worth getting rid of it.

Training your ears and learning about sound frequencies (where does instruments occupy your mix?)
When it comes to music production, it is important to train your ears to recognise imperfections in the audio signal, or identify areas where the sound appears too "muddy", unclear, or where instruments create unwanted sounds. With modern Equalisers it is possible to take out (or reduce) frequencies that are unpleasant, or "sculpture" the sound to make the overall mix sound better (for example a muddy sounding mix might be improved by separating the deep drum Kick from the deep Bass sound (for example by Low-pass the kick-drum under 70htz and High-passing the Bass guitar above 80htz, etc). Arguably the better way to do this is to remove other sounds that should not be in that spectrum. For example, the low E on a guitar goes down to 82htz, wheras a bass E string goes down one octave below to 41htz. This means that you can safely cut the guitar below 82htz to clean up the space for the bass guitar to shine, etc. The below overview chart is meant as a quick reference where instruments typically sit in the mix (sounds can be improved by boosting these areas, or cutting areas that might result in problems):

About the master BUS (and managing BUS-files in general)
In general - for all BUS files, it makes sense to add the coloring you want - already as a preset on the BUS even before you start adding effects as inserts on the individual files. This is because the FX on the BUS will affect all the individual files being sent to it, thereby saving you a lot of time - having to go back to adjust the individual files after you add an effect on the BUS.

Adding EQ to the Master Bus?
The professional mixing engineer F. Reid Shippen advocates adding a bit of "air" to the Master Bus because most tracks will benefit from being a bit more "open and airy" sounding. I use a basic 2-band Waves R-EQ and have a high-shelf gain of 1.3Db at 10.000 frequency range.

Using compression on the Master Bus?
Some engineers will often add some limters to limit sounds as they hit the Master Bus, but the general idea is to be careful of adding too much Compression on the Master Bus as this will damage the overall dynamics of the track. It is not a good idea to have everything lound all the time. So, the general advice is to employ some minor compression to the Master Bus. The legendary mixing engineer Bob Clearmountain famously use his hardware SSL G-Master Bus Compressor, with Attack = 100 and Release = .300. He use a compression ratio of 2:1 for ballads and 4:1 for rock songs, where the mix needs to "pump" a little more. I have the digital Waves version of the SSL, and I use this same settings there. I sometimes use a preset "11 Lillywhite Mix Buss" which has 4:1 compression at 300 attack and .1 release; but most time use Bob Clearmountain's setting. I have also tried the Andrew Scheps Parrallel Particles + the UAD Fairchild (default setting) on my Master BUS, but find that the Scheps particles pre-set "whole mix bus" is too agressive, though it makes the mix really loud-sounding.

In what order should I add compressors, EQ and peak limiters?
Compressors are used to glue instrumentation (like a drum BUS) together or ensure a most consistent sound. Peak limiters are used to stop the audio file from digital clipping (unwanted distortion). So, if you are using a compressor, the general advice is to have the peak limiter afterwards - since it is pointless to use a peak limiter if the compression does the job first (IE use the peak limiter if the compression does not get rid of the excessive peaks). So, as an example, the "traditional way" to mix vocals is have the compressor (LA-2A) first in the chain, followed by a peak limiter (1176 - or Waves L2 Ultramaximizer). The general advice about adding peak limiters is that these should be placed last in the mix, as otherwise the peak limiter at the start of the chain will amplify the plugins that comes later (this is not what you want). If your mix needs EQ, the general advice is to put the EQ before the limiter, but after the compressor, as this will give you the most control and will leave the limiter at the end of the chain to prevent clipping. Also, do not forget to add the compressor on the Bus track FIRST (before adding it to the track) as this will save you time in manipulating individual settings on the track-compressor (you have to re-adjust compressors when you add more to the chain).

At the end of your mix - play your song on a different system, and compare it to a professional audio-recording (private Soundcloud space is a good advice!)
Once you are happy with your mix, try to play it on your regular sound system, and then play a song by a professional mixer afterwards. Listen to any changes in volume / polish, etc. For example, Spotify has playlists from producers like Michael Brauer or Andrew Scheps, containing a lot of different genres and songs that they have produced. This is a helpful "yardstick" to see if your song will stand out vs. the competition. Also, I got some good advice from Shane Shananehan at Westpoint Studio in London to set up my own Soundcloud space, in order to easily be able to play the finished song on various systems - and get people's opinion and feedback etc.

Remember to listen to your mix at both HIGH and LOW monitor / headphone volume
I learned this trick from my mentor Manny Charlton (Nazareth producer); he said that - rock fans like to listen to their favorite music at high volume, which is the same for any genre of music really. You turn up the song you like. For that reason, it is important that the person mixing the record also listen at very high volume, in order to find areas that sound harsh or unpleasant to the ear. That might be some vocal noises (excessive Shh or Ess noises) or it may be an accoustic guitar note, or something that sticks out in an unpleasant way. I sometimes listen to country music - which has some excellent production -but in some cases, I find that if you turn the volume up, it obvious that the mixer has not heard it at high volume; so do yourself a favor and mix at high volume (you do not need to always listen at high volume, but do a couple of run throughs). Manny used to "rest his ears" so that if he had a session where he needed to listen at high volume, he waited until the next day to do the next song (just to save his hearing).

Get inspiration from YouTube videos (mixing and recording advice)

As always, do not forget that other people probably have done stuff before you - and heed their useful advice. There is a lot of material on YouTube. Here are some good examples:

Lesson 3 = Mixing Drums

Generally, I am all in favor of using whatever is needed for the song. Nothing will beat (pardon the pun) having a good drummer to record with you but, at the same token, a bad drummer will definitively ruin your song. For this record, I was lucky to "stumble upon" Matija Bajtal, a great drummer in Croatia, who was kind enough to lend his talent on several of these songs. He has a great recording set-up and it is great to feature him on this new album. On some tracks, I found that the programmed drums from a system/plug-in called BFD3 (I got this tool on the recommendation from earlier producer Manny Charlton and it is amazing) worked well with the demo that it ended up on the record. So, I found that it is the song that really decide what is needed in each case.

I found it hard to mix live drums for the first time. First, because it is hard to know what you are looking for from the drums, to service the song. Do the snare need reverb? Do I need to line up the kick to be on time (in most cases = "yes"). So, in my case it helps if I think about the process first, so I can break this down in managable chunks:

  • First job is to make the drums line up correctly, especially Kick and Snare. I usually start by fixing any noticable or bad-sounding "out of time" issues. The Kick and Snare is the most important part to the drum sound, so it is important for these to be reasonably "in time". Therefore I have learned to focus on those parts first. Often, I find that once these two are fixed, most of your "problems" will be solved. The High Hat often glue thigs together.

  • Second job is to make the Kick and Snare sound good, whilst separating the Kick from the Bass. Since the Kick and the Snare is important, I the next job is to get the right Kick- and Snare sounds using EQ and different coloring tools.

    Since the Kick drum often compete with the Bass in the mix, it needs to stay in one place to avoid the overall song to become muddy. For this reason I always EQ the Kick to improve the sub-bass sound up to 80htz, and add some air on the top (3k-10k) (see specific Kick drum trick below + Bass mixing trick under the "Bass" part).

    Another job is to use EQ to separate the Kick from the Snare - if that makes sonic sense in the song.

    I learned a trick from an interview with Jacquire King to use a De-Esser to reduce High-Hats sound within the recorded Snare, which I find works well if you are working with a drummer.

  • Third job is to focus on spatial design (Panning Left vs. Right + Front vs. Back). I play around with reverbs and delays to get the sound right. Whilst it is important to say that different songs need different approaches, I also enjoy going into the various parts of the drum-kit and panning differnt drums in different locations to mimic a real drum-set, so that a person who listen on earphones get a more interesting listening-experience. For example:

    • The Floor Tom and other three Toms are placed slightly to the Left or Right (usually Floor tom is next to snare so perhaps 10% Right, whilst Toms are 20L, 0C, 20R).

    • The High Hat (if the drummer plays 16' notes) can sound good if you duplicate this track and place each 25% Left and 25% right, but then delete alternate hits (a lot of manual work, but the result sounds pleasing to the ears). You can also try panning the High Hat 60 degrees to the left, as sometimes this will help the drum stand out a bit better.

    • Jacquire King (the mixer) advocates adding reverb to the Toms and Snare - pending the song - but use it in parallel to blend in the desired level.

    • Andrew Scheps (the mixer) is also not a big fan of putting reverbs on everything because it ends up as sounding unnatural. Instead, he use reverbs when he want to focus on a specific emotion within a song. For example a reverb can - with benefit - be added to a Snare or a Tom in order to bring out the natural feeling of that instrument.

Mixing the Kick-Drums (trick) and pre-set the DAW template for this

In my DAW Template, I have a pre-set for mixing the Kick-drum/ according to Warren Huart's YouTube advice for mixing Kick-Drums.

Advice ref. EQ and mix of kick-drums - incl. EQ settings (Warning: this is somewhat song-specific)

The Kick drums are EQ'd with a Waves F6 RTA plugin, so that I High Pass on the bottom low end (get rid of very low bass) below 27htz (to focus low sound) (setting 27htz, and 24q), then add approx. 4db around 60htz, then cut approx. 4db around 100htz where the bass sits - but make this cut narrow (4) not to lose too much. Cut dramatically 5db ugly drum sounds around 350htz., Then increase 2500htz by +5. Attack =11, Release =80. The kick-drum is further enhanced by adding UAD Helios Type 69 plugin - with a "Snappy Kick" pre-set, and also has an Oxide Tape Machine FX driven at 75% for added warmth. An alternative plug-in I like is the Val Gray Kick present on the API EQ I have before adding a 1176 UAD compressor.

About using compression on drums:
Andrew Scheps favours compressing the room mic, to make sure that the overall drums are heard. The problem with this is that - if you need to to make individual adjustmets to the timing of the drum track - it is harder to do this on the room mic. So use compressions on drums with care.

Be aware of depth, width and presence in your mix (and Pan the High Hat 60 degrees to the left)
Panning the High Hat 60 degrees to the left will help the drum stand out a bit better. I forgot where I learned this, but it works.

One the mixing-front, one lesson / presentation I do remember is this excellent Mixing Masterclass from Bob Power (the producer/engineer for De La Soul, Macy Gray, D'Angelo and more). In his presentation given at the third annual MixCon conference 2017, Bob is discussing how to use the mixing tools available in order to create space, depth, width to the sound-scape.

It was highly educational for a relative novice like myself to learn this practice approach from an expert in his field. I have taken his advice to heart.

3.5. An alternative way of mixing drums:
Matt Ross Spang (engineer and mixer, formerly of Sun Studio) has an interesting approach to recording and mixing drums. First off, he is used to recording the whole band together, and likes to work with drum-bleed into other tracks, as this will make the sound "bigger". For this reason, he rarely apply effects to individual drum parts (he also record drums with only 4 microphones), but instead favours EQ the whole drum bus. So this can also be a way to mix the drums: try to first see what happens if you increase different frequencies (lower will affect the Kick and Toms, etc). Also remember that the High-Hat track will also have bleed from the Kick, which also elevates the sound of the kick (so be careful about EQ of High-Hat, avoiding to take out the bottom end).

3.6. Do not get too influenced by how things look on screen (listen first!)
Another thing to be mindful of, is trying to avoid being too influenced by the graphical audio information that you see on your computer screen. It may be annoying if a drum part is ahead (or more likely behind) the visual wave form of the click-track, but it is important to LISTEN to it before making any changes. Sometimes if you fix everything so it lines up perfectly on screen, the recording will sound very small and not very inspirational. It is easy to go down the rabbit hole to try to mend everything to perfection - then come out at the other end thinking "that is sounding shit". My mentor Manny Charlton used to say: “if it sounds good, it is good!”, which is very true. The producer / mixer Andrew Scheps also agrees, saying that "it is what comes out of the speaker that counts, not how you got there".

3.7. Mixing Overheads
One trick when mixing overheads is to make this track(s) sound like the full drum set. In other words: work with EQ and tools so that this track sound like the full drum kit.

3.8. Mixing Drum Room mic
If you have one microphone to pick up the totallity of your room, a classic mixing trick is to use the Neve 1073 EQ and UAD 1176 compressor on this. It sounds good each time.

3.9. More ideas: adding sampled drums + use parallel compression / distortion on drums?
To fatten up a drum sound, several mix engineers advocate adding parallel compression or parallel distortion on kick or snare drums. In addition, a lot of times recording engineers use sampled drums as these tend to make the recording volume more consistent. My 2 cents on this is to be very careful about this; my style of music is Rock N Roll, so it is supposed to sound a bit "off-the-cuff" and hit and miss. If you make the recording too "clinical" you tend to loose the "feeling" or miss the actual performance of the band. Another way to fatten up the sound is simply to add another drum recording - like Phil Spector did in the 1960's with his "wall of sound" era.

My favorite audio plugins for drums
As I mentioned earlier, the Drum tool "BFD3" is invaluable in my case, as my studio is not set up for recording drums. In addition, there are many plugins which are excellent to use. I often use EQ as described to separate the kick vs bass, etc. I Sometimes I use the usual compressors (LA2A, Distressor, etc) and peak limiters (LA2A, Waves L2 Ultramaximizer) where needed. But more often than not, to color the sound, I love the UAD Helios (which is excellent), Waves API, plus a range of reverb tools for the snare in particular - the UAD Precision, AKBX20, the RealVerbPro, Waves R-Verb.


Lesson 4 = Mixing the Bass and pre-set the DAW template for this (a production trick)

To make the mixing faster when it comes to the Bass-tracks, I have added all the plug-ins (and their settings) in my template (for timesaving purposes).

I learned the following trick from Warren Huart, hwo runs the "Produce Like a Pro" academy online (credit where credit is due!). He is also a bass-player, so he has a good insight in how to mix in the bass for best effect. You can see Warren Huart's Bass Mixing Advice on YouTube.

When it comes to mixing bass, I often find that you need to mix the Bass in the same way each time (EQ to avoid frequency range of the Kick-Drum, etc). So this is why my template incl. 4 different bass mono tracks, which all feed into one overall Bass BUS (for overall Bass control). The four (4) individual mono bass parts are set up as follows (for future reference):

Recording Bass track (1x track for this)
I arm one channel for tracking the bass, and eventually cut and paste the bass into on this single file. I typically do not add any audio effects or equaliser (EQ) on this track - it contains simply the recorded Direct Input (DI) bass signal. This recording track is eventually muted in the mix / since it has no effects (FX) loaded - but it is copied into the 3 following Bass mono tracks:

Low-Pass Bass

The above-mentioned Bass track copied into this file, which as the following FX added: FTA 6 band EQ - with the deep bass amplified at the right places (Low pass EQ up to 200 frequency range), and a LA2A light compression plus a Distressor with a Bass Mix preset. Also has Oxide Tape Machine driven at 75% for added warmth.

High-pass Bass

This is the same track with a Waves 6 band EQ - which only amplifies the high frequencies (above 200 frequency range) / takes out the low end of the bass. I use a Fairchild compression on this, and an Oxide Tape Machine FX driven at 75% for added warmth.

High-pass Bass + with Ampeg amplifier
To color the Bass sound, I find it useful to add some further FX top, so I copy the previous track (also Hi pass EQ above 200 frequency range), and run this through the UAD Ampeg amplifier FX (with the 15x cab setting), plus a 1176 compressor. This track also has Oxide Tape Machine driven at 75% for added warmth.

The Bass BUS.

All of the four (4) bass tracks are then fed into a master "Bass BUS" so that I can control the overall volume, to mix the song.3 basses goes into the Bass bus, where a 6 band eq is used to boost the 100 EQ frequency, then take out low frequency below 50htz - to make room for kick-drum in the overall mix. I sometimes boost around 2k and 1k (test to see where the coloration is). The bass bus also has a compressor to take down the higher sound - EL8 Distressor (Bass mix preset) and Fairchild compressor. The 3 bass tracks are then blended to suit - take out 2-3 db of mid-range, but leave distortion and increase low end by 1 db. This is a classic bass sound, and it is equal presence throughout the mix.

Another thought - from Bob Clearmountain

The famous mixer (Bryan Adams, Rolling Stones, Crowded House, etc) advocates listening to the mix - without the bass, so that you can hear what will compete with the bass frequencies before adding the bass, and then deal with that with EQ - and / or hi-lo pass filters, for example if there is a lot of reverbs that occupy the various frequencies in the mix.

4.7. Solution to fixing low end = hear it first!
A lot of people find it "hard" to get the "low end" to sound good in a mix. The reason is oftentimes that their monitoring (speakers) are not producing the sub-bass range. They are therefore "driving blind" and trying to blend levels without hearing how it will sound. One solution could be to add a subwoofer - in order to accurately hear the low end. If your room itself does not bring out the right low end, one solution could be to hear the mix on good quality earphones. In my experience, the ultimate way to figure out the if your low end sound good is to load up the final mix to Soundcloud, then listen back to the mix on your iphone, in your car, in different environments - to check out how the bass sounds.

4.8,. How to achieve great low end on recordings
A recording with a lot of instrumentation will end up sounding "muddy" in the lower frequency range, where the human ear have difficulty of picking sounds up. To solve this, the recommendation is to focus your attention of cleaning up other tracks (not kick or bass), especially in "dense" songs with a lot of various instrumentation. For example, you can listen to the song without the Kick and the Bass in order to determine where the "unwanted" low end comes from. You can use a multiband EQ plugin to high-pass / or remove sounds under 81 htz where the bass and the kick drum lives. The area under 70 htz is usually occupied by the kick-drum, wheras the Bass guitar will live from 70 htz upwards. Oftentimes you will find that the guitars or the vocals do not loose anything (in the mix) if you take out these low frequencies. For example, the low E on a guitar goes down to 82htz, wheras a bass E string goes down one octave below to 41htz. This means that you can safely cut the guitar below 82htz to clean up the space for the bass guitar to shine, etc. Also, keep in mind that the amplified bass sounds great upper in the register (thus, the good idea to split the bass signal up and use different effects on each), which will also be perceived as a better low end. Furthermore, another trick is to use a piano to double the bass track / or a barritone guitar to double the bass parts / or to fatten guitars up. Achieving great low end on recordings will always involve the above aspects. Moreover, it is important to note that each song is different, so arguably should have a different bass flavour to suit.


Most songs have the key instrumentation (like Vocals, Kick, Snare and Bass) usually placed centre in the mix, whereas the "nibbly things" (high-hats, guitar, keyboard effects, etc) are panned L-R to create width in your mix. However, if you listen back to early recordings from the 1950's and 1960's when engineers were playing around with panning for the first time, it is clear that you can get some very interesting results if you place the drums to the right and bass to the left in the mix (as long as the overall balance is right otherwise). Another trick might be to place the bass wide out to each side, and experiment with this. In short, there are no fixed rules to mixing bass - but like anything - you can break the rules as long as you know what the rules are, and what your decision does to your overall mix :-) You can even try out using reverb on the bass, though this is very song specific.

My favorite bass audio plugins.

I do not have a dedicated bass amplifier in my home studio, so I always end up adding the UAD Ampeg bass amp my Avalon 737 (hardware mic pre) from the Fender Precision bass. Otherwise, there is not much processing on the bass, though I use EQ (as described in this section) to mix the bass in the track to my liking. I also have other tools, including the Helios and API plugins which is used from time to time, pending what the track needs, aside from compression (the usual LA2A, 1176, and the Waves MV2 compressor) - though I tend to ride the bass volume (manually) more, as I rarely have time constraints in my home studio. I might also use a distortion effects on some parts of the songs, if it is needed for the bass to stand out (and/or doubling the bass on the piano for the same reason).

Lesson 5 = Recording and Mixing vocals

I have a Neumann 103 condenser microphone which is pretty high-end, and it records "absolutely everything", which sometimes also means it picks up the cymbals from the headphones (especially as I like to have the earphone volume up high when I record vocals. Also, I almost always use the Avalon 737 mic pre when recording vocals. I have learned that this probably could be solved by using a less high-fi vocal microphone (SM58 for example) and I could try to record more with my Neve 1073 mic-pre, as this is considered an amazing piece of kit (Andrew Scheps, the noted producer, advocates using a 1073 through a LA2A and 1176 for a classic rock vocal sound).

In his Produce-Like-a-Pro video, Warren Huart talks about Mixing basics incl. Vocal Compression. I found this lesson very valuable, especially learning about EQ, such as "removing horrible honkiness" (400- to- 600-700 hertz frequency area, compressing some areas), how to avoid a nasal voice (sing in front of mike with mouth, not place your nose near the mic, especially recording in small room), or using DeEsser plugins if required (to remove excessive Sss sounds).

Warren Huart (Produce Like a Pro on YouTube) has a video on mixing vocals to sit properly in the mix, and advice on how to create massive vocals which I learned a lot from.

I also searched on a lot of online forums and learned some fantastic advice from fellow producers, including this excellent post by "Kevinhifi" on the Gearpage, which made me think on how to make room for the vocals vs. the guitars and snare in the mix: "This is for rock music: I like to create a copy of the main vocal track, EQ the copy to have a nice bump somewhere in the mids, compress the hell out of it, and mix it into the dry vocal track to taste. I'll sweep the mid frequency to find where it sits nicely and then, if needed, carve that same frequency out of the guitars and snare a little bit. When I want to add a slap-back echo or reverb to the vocals, I'll do it mostly to the heavily EQ'd track. A little goes a long way with this technique. I usually mix it to the point where I can only tell it's there when I mute it if that makes sense.

Various vocal production techniques!

Here are some other good vocal production techniques I have come across from various sources:

5.1.1. How to get a different Frequency-response on vocals? Try recording the source with two different vocal chains: I typically use a Neuman Mic with the Avalon 737 preamp for my vocals, but I can also put up the Shure SM57 with the Neve 1073 preamp (which is Andrew Scheps fave vox combo) for secondary vocals and blend those in during the mix process.

5.1.2. Be aware that the air Humidity affects recorded sounds: In the famous Abbey Road Studio in London you can purchase a book, which shows exactly where the microphones were set up for each session. The engineers there also made notes, for example, pointing out the exact square where the drum kit was, how high the microphone was placed over the kit, etc. It also has a note relating to what the weather was like that day. Why? Because, the audio engineers needed to recreate the conditions if they were to do a new recording to sound like the earlier one, or to continue a vocal take. It was interesting to see that they made a note of the weather / because my mentor Manny Charlton also pointed out this to me during a session we did in Spain. We had to record a whole vocal session again, because the humidity in the air was so different from one day to the next, it affected the recorded sound.

5.1.3. Need bigger vocal sound? try de-turning lead vocals: In the 1970's the Swedish pop group ABBA achieved great vocals by speeding up - or slowing down the recording tape. This would make the lead vocals tuned slightly higher, and slightly lower, leading to a "bigger" sounding lead vocal. In modern DAW's you can try detuning and uptuning the lead vocals ever so slightly, and then mix these new vocals in with the Lead Vocals to suit.

5.1.4. Male vox - anything under 80 frequency don't need in the mix anyway, so take that out by EQ (and always use software for EQ /not outboard gear)

5.1.5. By adding in auto-tune, it’s harder to hear when you’re off-key.

5.1.6. By adding a de-esser, it’s harder to hear and avoid sibilance.

5.1.7. By adding a high-pass filter, it’s harder to hear popping.

5.1.8. Use the parallel compression technique: By adding a compressor, it’s harder to hear level changes. Having reviewed Andrew Scheps' mix bus technique on compression, I see the value of compressing the signal on a separate track and mixing this in with the original source. This means that you keep the dynamic / characteristic sound of the recorded signal, but lift the volume underneath, so you can blend in the compression separately. This is a neat trick, not only for vocals but for the whole mix BUS, and also for adding reverb, delay and other effects.

5.1.9. Using Compressors on vocals: Advice from Rick Beato -the YouTube guru - one strategy on vocals is to have one compressor with slow attack and then another compressor with fast attack (so that you don't have to ride the vocals). Rick uses a LA2A, a 1176 and a Fairchild 670 on the Mix Bus.

5.1.9. Apply the compressor to the BUS - first, before compressing vocals: Some people apply compression to the BUS after they have added compression on the vocals - which then means that you have to go back to the vocals and mix it again. Far better to add the compressor to the BUS first, and then mix in the compressor on the vocal track afterwards.

5.1.10. Use a mono reverb: Use a mono reverb and pan the dry signal and the reverb return to opposite sides. If the sound you're going to process needs to be panned center or close to it, use a stereo reverb with a reverb time shorter than one second. Note: reverb makes the voice appear to be further away - thus be mindful that reverb may not be the effect you want if you are going for a modern "in-your-face" vocal sound.

5.1.11. Use two different Reverbs to make the vocals sit better in the track + Parallel Reverb: One really good advice that I came across from Bruce Botnick is to use two different reverbs on a vocal. It seems counter intuitive, but for some strange reason this makes the reverb space sound better. Not only that, but Jacquire King (another mixer) also had a suggestion of applying reverb (or distortion - if the vocal needs it) to a different track and mix the two (same idea as parallel compression).

5.1.12. Use two different Reverbs - with EQ! Jacquire King (the mixer who has worked with Norah Jones and more) had some good suggestions on how to mix vocals, including separating vocals (EQ) into High and Low frequencies, and then applying different reverbs to each of those tracks.

5.1.13. Use Delay instead (or in addition to) Reverb: Many people use a lot of reverb in modern music today. However, this can sound a bit "washy" and mud things up in the mix. Instead, you can try using Delay effects instead. Thiese can be altered to a greater degree to sit better in the mix. For example, the delay can be designed to follow the rythm of the track and you have the option to add pre-delays etc.

5.1.14. Using distortion on vocals: Copy the vocal track, add distortion on 2nd vocal track and blend in subtly, to make the vocals larger, or use octave lower, and blend in (very subtly).

5.1.15. Finish tuning and timing the lead vocals - before adding backing vocals: In today's recording world, you will probably be using some "tricks" in the DAW to improve the vocals. So, do not waste time by recording backing vocals straigth after recording the lead vocals (except to get the idea down of course). Instead, take time to perfect the Lead Vocals in the mix first, and then add the backing vocals to suit. This will save a lot of time (fixing up the backing vocals) and lead to a more professional sound.

5.1.16. Try singing backing vocals - and naturally apply "backing vocal effect" by standing further away from the microphone: Matt Ross Spang, formerly mixer and engineer at Sun Studio, is used to recording live bands. To replicate the natural way that backing vocals sound in a live setting, it is often as simple as standing further away from the microphone. If the Lead Vocals is sung in close proximity to the microphone, it makes sense to sing the Backing Vocals further away. This naturally saves a lot of EQ and post-recording work on the backing vocals.

5.1.17. Nothing says "chorus" more like some stacked vocal harmonies: So, I sometimes use the Melodyne (auto-tune plugin) to tailor some subtle vocal effects to tailor the sound, or even do an octave below doubled on a different track, and bring them down until they are not clearly audible but you miss them when they are gone. Or - of course - recording more vocals for the chorus. I do the same with the guitar solo, and found that I can use Melodyne on that, as well as the Kramer Guitar plug-in, which is a "one-stop-shop" when it comes to making the guitar stand out in the mix.

5.1.18. Backing vocal - advice 1 = If it is a pop setting; you want to double all the vocals. Even if you don't want a strong doubled sound, sneaking the double tracks up under the primary tracks can help things along.

5.1.19. Backing vocal - advice 2 = about doubling vocals: If it is a more traditional sound or the focus is on a group singing the harmony, then doubling the vocal probably isn't right. The need for the vocals to be right up front in the mix depends on the relative "importance" of their place in the song. If that makes sense.

5.1.20. Backing vocal - advice 3 = panning: add effect by panning the BG halfway out with the two parts spread out each to a side + spread the double in or out a bit too. Ideally BG should be connected to the lead vocal (which should always be centered in the mix).

5.1.21. Backing vocal - advice 4 / a trick (not my own) = copy the BGV's to a new stereo track and: Micro-pitch (+11, -11), Hass delay (15ms, 30ms), Compress to hell, HPF around 450hz, HF Shelf @ 12K quite a bit, De-ess to hell, Mute the track, Pre-fade send unity to a decent short verb with a pre-delay around 60ms, Compress + HPF, LPF verb a bit - or a lot. Now bring up that verb return till it sounds good. And then start tweaking all those settings from above till it sounds even better.

5.1.22. using EQ and a different mic for backing vocals: Learned from a conversation between legendary audio-mixers Andrew Scheps and Dave Pensado - that a good trick for backing vocals are to a) record BX voccals using a different microphone than the lead vocals (anything to help distinguish the two vocals), and b) to use a multiband EQ to scoop out the mid-range of the BX vocals, so they do not compete with the main vocals (have more air on top of the backing vocals).

5.1.23. Save time - by pre-mixing vocals: If you are working with the same singer in the studio a lot, then a good advice is to set up a template to suit. For example: have 3 vocal tracks going into the BUS - one with the favorite compressor (or try several different compressors / and select the best one for each take), ditto for the reverb.

5.1.24. Process for mixing vocals (stages 1 to 3): 1st manually move the volume (riding volume) 2nd. Reduce vocal by 1,7 db (before going into other plugins), then 3. Automate the vocal rider - by using “vocal rider” plugin, where you can automate step 1 - but us in addition (not to replace step 1). Then, finally, 3rd. Use the compressors to make the vocals sound good (LA2A, 1176, Fairchild etc) and then also the Distressor plugin. I also use De-Essing plugins since compressors will increase "Sshh" and "Esss" sounds.

5.1.24. Keep vocals lower in the mix if you want the track louder: it is not always that the vocal should be the star of the show (this is song-specific). The track will appear to be "bigger" if you place the vocals lower in the mix.

Yet more vocal techniques: "10 ways to make your Vocal mixies sound professional".

On the The Tunecore website, I found a guest blog which has a bread-list on "10 ways to make vocals sound modern and professional". The vocals are extremely important and will require more time mixing than most other instruments. Oftentimes it is the vocals that determine if a listener will find it worthwhile to listen to a song. For this reason, I sometimes find it to be daunting to mix my vocals, as it might "make" or "break" a song. Added to this, it is hard to make judgements on your own vocals for a myriad of reasons, but most people do not like their own voice very much (it sounds different that it does in your head as you speak). Thus, it is very easy to "over-do" effects when mixing songs. I found the following advice to be good, but obviously - pending the song - not all of this is always going to work, but it is useful things to keep in mind when mixing:

5.2.1. Top-End Boost
This is perhaps the easiest and fastest way to make a vocal sound expensive. Most boutique microphones have an exaggerated top-end. When using a more affordable microphone, you can simply boost the highs to replicate this characteristic. The best way to do this is with an analogue modelling EQ, such as the free Slick EQ. Use a high shelf, and start with a 2dB boost at 10kHz. Experiment with the frequency and amount of boost. You can go as low as 6kHz (but keep it subtle) and boost as much as 5dB above 10kHz. Just make sure it doesn’t become too harsh or brittle.

5.2.2. Use a De’Esser
When you start boosting the top-end, the vocal can start to sound more sibilant. To counteract this problem, a de’esser can be used. These simple tools are a staple of the vocal mixing process and required in at least 80% of cases. I find they usually work best at the very beginning or end of the plugin chain.

5.2.3. Remove Resonances
If you’re recording in a room that’s less than ideal, room resonances can quickly build up.
Find these resonances using the boost-and-sweep technique and then remove them with a narrow cut.

5.2.4. Control the Dynamics with Automation
For a modern sound, the dynamics of vocals need to be super consistent. Every word and syllable should be at roughly the same level. Most of the time, this can’t be achieved with compression alone. Instead, use automation to manually level out the vocal. I prefer to use gain automation to create consistency before the compressor. But regular volume automation works well too.

5.2.5. Catch the Peaks with a Limiter
Using a limiter after compression is another great way to control dynamics. You don’t need to be aggressive with it (unless you are going for a heavily compressed sound). Aim for 2dB of gain reduction only on the loudest peaks.

5.2.6. Use Multiband Compression
As vocalists move between different registers, the tone of their voice can change. For example, when the vocalist moves to a lower register, their voice might start to sound muddy. Instead of fixing this with EQ and removing the problematic frequencies from the entire performance, you could use multiband compression to control these frequencies only when they become problematic. For any frequency-based problem that only appears on certain words or phrases, use multiband compression rather than EQ.

5.2.7. Enhance the Highs with Saturation
Sometimes EQ alone isn’t enough to enhance the top-end. By applying light saturation, you can create new harmonics and add more excitement.

5.2.8. Use Delays Instead of Reverb
For a modern sound, the vocals need to be upfront and in-your-face. Applying reverb to the vocal does the opposite of this, so is undesirable. Instead, use a stereo slap-back delay to create a space around the vocal and add some stereo width. Use a low feedback (0-10%) and slightly different times on the left and right sides. I find that delay times between 50-200ms work best.

5.2.9. Try Adding a Subtle Plate Reverb
To add more width and depth to the vocal, try adding a subtle stereo plate on the vocal. You don’t want the reverb to be noticeable, as discussed in the previous tip. Instead, bring the wetness up until you notice the reverb, then back it off a touch. Start with the shortest decay time possible and a 60ms pre-delay to give the transients a bit more definition and room to breathe.

5.2.10. Try Adding a Subtle Chorus Effect
Another way to give the vocal a bit of depth and shimmer is to apply subtle chorusing. Again, you don’t want the effect to be noticeable. Add a stereo chorus to the vocal and increase the wetness until you notice the effect, then back it off a touch.

Lessons learned "the hard way"

Below you will find some lessons that I learned "the hard way" (trial and error) during the making of our 3rd full-lenght album in The Fluffy Jackets Sound Studio, located in Norway.

5.3.1. Commit to 1 x Lead Vocal before adding backing / harmony vocals
As I recorded lead vocals for some of the songs at Westpoint Studios in London with Shane Shananahan as the engineer, I learned to spend the time to perfect the lead vocals before starting to look at backing vocals or harmonies. It is worthwile to spend time on the lead vocal performance is matching the song lyrics and the overall emotion. After all, we are trying to convey emotion, so when comping the vocals this is what we are after. Also, it may make sense to send the vocals off to be professionally tuned (using Melodyne) before committing to them; some times this is more cost-effective than re-record all the vocals in a professional studio, and having to be "on" for a specific moment in time.

5.3.2. Mix the vocals verse by verse and chorus by chorus (avoiding the "one size fits all" vox mix)
Many mixers who start out is using the same effects and same processing on the full lead vocal track. In other words, you tend to have one lead vocal track, and you apply the same effects (compression, EQ, boost, etc) on this lead vocal througout your mix. In most cases you can improve the vocal mixing by cutting the lead vocals up in separate parts, and apply individual mix tools on different places within the song (different parts tend to have different moods, etc) so a trick I have learned is to cut the lead vocals up into those different sections, and add different vocal effects to each one. This makes it easier for the vocals to sit better in the overall mix throughout the performance. This is not only balancing the volume level of the vocals in the chorus vs. verse, but changing things like reverb and other effects to suit. A bit of extra work? yes, but your mix will sound better for it.

5.3.3. Final vocal mix check =can you hear the vocals with the bass at low volume?
One way to figure out if the vocals are loud enough in the whole mix, is to playback the song at really low volume on a good set of monitors. If you can hear the vocals together with the bass at low volume, this is usually a good pointer that the vocal is in a good place, though this can also be a bit song-specific of course.

My favorite audio plugins for mixing vocals
There are many, but the UAD 1176 plugin is a go-to for peak limiting. The UAD Fairchild 670 plugin always sounds nice on the BUS, and there is the Waves R-Verb plugin (keep on forgetting this due to it only is available on stereo tracks) along with a number of effects, such as the Abbey Road Reverb Plates, the UAD AKG BX 20 reverb, UAD RealVerbPro or even the UAD Precision reverb. I also use delay effects like Echoplex from UAD. Compression-wise, Waves also have the MV2 which is a great compressor / limiter to use in conjunction with the aforementioned LA2A and 1176. Chris Lord Alge (the famous producer) also has a great vocal plugin "CLA vocals" from Waves, which he built around his most frequently used hardware outboard gear (compressors, reverbs, etc). One of the big thing with vocals is to remove various "S" sounds ("Ess" or "Shh" sounds), and I use the Waves DeEsser for this, as well as manual mixing tricks, like removing manually the "s" sound out from the backing vocals, or EQ these out. I will also sometimes use the Waves NS1 noise remover to get rid of unwanted background noises in vocals.

I often use the Waves CLA Vocal plugin on backing vocals. Andrew Scheps (another famous mixer/producer) has a plugin called "Parallel Particles" which can also sound good to easily liven up dull-sounding vocals. The Waves 6-band EQ is also frequently used to boost or cut vocal audio. I have also considered buying a new plugin called "Soothe" which apparently takes out harsh vocal frequencies or in acoustic guitars. However, I have not tried this yet, but it is on my list of things to try out.

Lesson 6 = Recording and mixing guitars

About selecting guitars, effects, amplifications, picks, slides, tunings:
When it comes to recording and mixing guitar, I learned a lot from Manny Charlton (Nazareth) about his approach in the studio. Rather than grabbing the closest guitar and amp, he would sit back and think about what direction he wanted to build up the track first. Then, he would select the guitar, amplification and effect that he wanted to commit to. He would also think about the possibility of achieving different sounds via different tunings. For example, I learned the tuning DBDGBB from Manny Charlton at his studio in Cordoba, Spain (March 2022), which is a D minor 9 tuning. I also have his old Hofner slide guitar, which is tuned to an open D, producing great slide guitar sound.

Microphone placement and ambient noises:
For electric guitars, I almost always use the amps I have in my studio. I like to angle the microphone to the side, not touching the cloth of the amp, ideally with an ambient noise dampener. When tracking acoustic / dobro guitars, I typically use the Avalon 737 pre-amp which also supply 48V phantom power to supply the Neuman condenser microphone. Acoustic guitars are usually tracked placing the Mic pointing at the 12th fret, to avoid boominess. I have found that some finger-picking (or plectrum) noises are frequently heard on my Mic (this captures a lot of sound), so I have learned to try different approaches when it comes to tracking acoustic guitars, trying out different mics here (I currently use a Neumann condenser Mic / might try a ribbon mic, etc.), or trying different plectrums (as they have different softness, they sound different / ditto with slide guitar sounds (glass vs brass vs steel, etc.)).

Mixing guitars

In this audio mix master class from James Hurley, you can see a general advice on how to mix electric guitars to sit well in a track, taking out the low frequencies (avoid competing with Kick-drum or bass), etc. 

6.3.1. Using compressors on distorted guitars? If you are dealing with distorted guitar rhythm, the signal is already compressed (the audio looks like a square blob), so this is often a pointless exercise as you only end up with a different tonality.

6.3.2. EQ advice for guitars: Often guitar tracks will benefit from taking out low end, controlling the upper mid-range of the rhythm guitar so it does not “hurt” the ears, adding some sparkle on top. In practical terms, mix advise is to try to remove stuff under 200, adding 7k (EQ). 

6.3.3. About panning rock guitar tracks (L-R) = to get a "fat" guitar sound, usually this is done by playing the same riff 3 times, panning L-C-R. It is important to note that copying the same track 3 x times does not contribute to making a “bigger guitar sound”.  =This means do not pan the same guitar L-R, unless you - at the very least have done a basic EQ to make these different - or better doubling the guitar part (or adding an FX etc).

6.3.4. A neat trick for doubling guitar parts (making guitars sound bigger) = Warren Huart has a great trick for doubling guitars (YouTube link) which is done by taking the 2nd string from the top of a Bass and re-do the riff, so that it adds to the sonic character. You can also try using a Wah pedal for effect.  

6.3.5. About recording for Dolby Atmos (surround sound) = Dolby Atmos is a surround sound technology developed by Dolby Laboratories. It expands on existing surround sound systems by adding height channels, allowing sounds to be interpreted as three-dimensional objects with neither horizontal, nor vertical limitation. You can record the guitar 4 times (it can be handy to have this - just in case you are later going to mix for surround + height), but for "normal" Stereo recordings, a two track is enough, as I find that more guitars = makes the track sound muddy.

6.3.6. About recording guitar solos and how to mix in a solo = Some people (YouTube link) argue that you should record guitar solos and vocals last, as the song should exist before start writing lyrics or constructing a solo. I do not entirely agree with this, as a song could be based around a lyric idea, etc, so it just depends on the song. Though the mentioned link has some other good advice, like: take out high and add mids to get solo sitting on top of the other guitars. Also, a recording tip: angle the Mic to the side, not touching the cloth of the amp.

6.3.7. About compressing distorted guitars = If you are dealing with distorted guitar rhythm, I would lean to not compressing if you can avoid. Reason being that the distortion is already compressing the guitar signal (making square audio waves) - so that oftentimes the compressor will not add much volume to the party anyway.

6.3.8. About mixing acoustic guitars = Warren Huart has a lot of good advice on how to record and mix acoustic instruments, incl. what to take note of in the recording process, using De-Essers to take out harsh sounds, etc. Also note that the acoustic guitar sits right where the vocal is, so it is important to take this into consideration in a mix situation.

6.3.9. Adding reverb to acoustic guitars = Jacquire King (the mixer) offers advice to add some reverb to acoustic guitars, as this sometimes help the sound.

6.3.10. About my favorite Electric guitar plugins = I have several amps in my home studio (Marshall 18w valve amp, Marshall 5w transformer-based amp, Fender Precision valve amp), but also love to use the guitar amp plugins, incl. the excellent UAD Marshall Plexi and the UAD Fender 55 Tweed Deluxe, along with a myriad of pedals. It is great to use the Fender Tweed in particular, because the various settings for microphones and placements means that the signal-path is better and more hi-fi than what I can achieve at home (pending the song of course). For electric and rock guitars (and most other audio tracks) I tend to have the EQ first in the chain of FX that I use. Having said that, I also I have the Eddie Kramer guitars plugin, which is dedicated to treating the EQ on electric guitars, where you also can add reverbs, chorus and delay, etc. I find that it is easier to dial in a good tone (that sit in the mix) with this plugin, rather than faffing around with all sorts of other plugins and EQ treatments. It is something I am wary of using though, because I always pick the guitar, amp and signal chain exactly to set the tone I am going for (so using the plugin will change that, but it is often good to use in order for the guitars to stand out in the mix, which is what it is all about in the end). Sometimes I use the API or Helios plugins I have to treat the signal.

6.3.11. About my favorite Accoustic guitar plugins = For acoustic guitars, I find the Maserati Acoustic guitars plugin from Waves invaluable; it is hard to make an acoustic guitar worse using that plugin. Using a De-Esser plugin on acoustic guitars can help taking out harshness, and a further digital 6-band EQ can help take out offending frequencies on acoustics. I am told that the Soothe plug-in is recommended to take out some harsh frequencies but have not tried this yet (it is on the radar).

6.3.12. Andrew Scheps' three frequencies to play around with ref. EQ of rock guitars (distorted guitars) = Rythm distorted guitar - look at 180 (where the thump of the cab is), 1.8k (where the notes can be heard above the distortion) and 5.8k (where the white noisy-bit is).

6.3.13. Try different tunings! = Manny Charlton, my producer-friend / mentor told me to spend time to get the guitar sound right at the outset before recording. Also play around with different tunings to bring different sounds to the recording. I learned using the DBDGBB tuning from Manny in Spain in 2022 (D minor 9).

In this video from Waves (the plugin company), you can see a classic example of mixing guitars using the panning trick described above, including ideas on how to use EQ, in this case the API, to achive good results.  

Lesson 7 = Once all the recording is done

Once you have completed all the recording and mixed the song finished, then you are done, right? wrong.

Archiving Best practice: Back Up regularly (!) Printing Stem (Wav's) + load in your DAW song

Having had experience of the software industry - let me tell you this: software plugins go out of date, companies go bust, and upgrades stop happening, and compatibility goes out the window. Let us say: in 15 years after your final mix, somebody wants a remaster (this happens all the time) - what do you do to replicate the sound from the source? The answer = print the various Stems (Bass, Rythm Guitars, Solo Guitars, Lead Vocal, Backing Vocal, Drums) - with all the effects, so that you have these for the future. In addition to keeping these Wav files as separate tracks, also make sure to add them in your DAW song, so that you are able to replicate it there in future. -The same goes for artwork of course: make sure you store the hires artwork together with the album, so that you easily can find this again in future.

Mastering is the final process in the recording-chain, which is important for making the recorded sound ready for manufacturing of various physical output; where will the song get played? Radio vs. YouTube vs. Spotify vs. CD vs. LP, etc. A good mastering engineer is useful, simply because it is another set of ears that will listen to your song with fresh perspective, and take out errors that you have overlooked; they will also ensure that the song sounds good on various platforms. Sometimes it can be handy to give a reference track to the mastering engineer if there is a specific "sound" you are shooting for. The mastering engineer should also look at the "topping" or "tailing" (start and finish) of your songs, so that they start and end perfectly.

Clearning mechanical copyright?
I have learned (the hard way) that it is better only to have original material on physical output (and better to have cover-version only digital) as it saves a lot of paperwork. If you decide to have a cover on your physical output, this will also mean that you pre-pay royalties for the full manufacturing volume - minus promo copies (before you know how many LP's/CD's you will actually sell). With digital, you only pay for the actual achieved streams, etc. If you are a UK band and want to release a cover version, you have to pay for the mechanical copyrights by registering with PRS for Music and apply using their AP2 form. I found PRS to be very helpful, and typically they answer any questions in a speedy manner if you send questions to applications@prsformusic.com or nmp@uk.nmp.eu (deals with mechanical copyrights for music recordings). As of 2023, all original songs written by Helge Rognstad (The Fluffy Jackets) are copyrighted (both the publishing/song as well as the recording) via Tono, the CMO company in Norway.

Making stuff and producing things, sending them to the warehouse, getting distribution arranged, checking with warehouses: This process takes longer than you think. There may be waiting lists for manufacturing LPs at your factory, but also it takes time to clear copyright if you are doing cover-versions. So, before you let your Spotify dealer know the release dates, it is useful to find out what actual date is realistic first. Our last album release was done by Disc Wizards in the UK

Final thoughts on how to finish your new song and/or album?
Making new music can be a time consuming process. And as an artist, it is hard to understand when a song or album is complete. Because you can always find things you should improve upon, mix better, or record better, etc.

I have learned that one way to look at this - is to think to yourself "what is my next project". As a matter of fact; your current project is the only thing that is stopping you from your "next project". Since we all love new and exciting things, contemplating this fact will help your brain to decide when to draw that line in the sand.

Did you do as well as you could at the time? did you try your best? Yes, you can always improve it... But, it is something to be said for staring to think:


Use the things you have learned from making your current project, and apply that to the next project. This means that you are continously evolving and improving as time goes on. Eventually, one day, you can look back and reflect on all your choices with fondness and appreciation for "where you were at that time". Almost like a photo-album.

I hope you have learned something from this article. I certainly did!

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