How To: Mixing Rock

Audio mixing is one of the most essential yet challenging processes you’ll go through as a producer, band, solo artist or as a musician who is planning to release their music to the world. Of course, if you’re reading this then you probably know what it is, but as a quick reminder so we’re all on the same page;

Mixing is the process when you add multiple channels of music together, placing them over the top of each other to create the complete song. You can then edit and adjust the EQ settings on each track so it sounds perfect when placed with the other tracks.

In your typical song, you can have many different types of audio track, some of which may consist of vocals, backing vocals, and each individual instrument that’s been recorded. In addition to making sure the volume of each track is optimized, so the listener can hear everything, there are many other processes you might work on.

Some of these include;

Panning: The process of deciding the stereo spectrum of your track. This means you can choose which speaker the sound is coming from, as well as whether it bounces from speaker to speaker, or is completed balanced in the center.

Effects: For some of your instruments you may have used an effect, such as a bass compression pedal on your guitar, but there are a seemingly infinite number of ways you can add effects to your sounds, especially when using modern-day computer software, such as a DAW platform.

EQ: Perhaps the most common mixing technique, this part of the process is where you adjust the volume and clean up the frequencies of each track, so it will sound clean and removes any unwanted sounds or tones. This is the area where you’ll want sure all your individual tracks sound compatible when combined.

Automation: It’s worth remembering your track is going to vary a lot from start to finish. For example, you may want more emphasis on vocals while they’re playing, and then more emphasis on your instruments while there are no vocals. This is the process that joins all these different sounding areas together to create the final song.

Of course, mixing can be far more complex than how we’ve listed above, and there is plenty of variation in everything we’ve said above. However, this is just to make sure we’re all on the same page, wavelength – or waveform?

Today we’re going to talk about mixing rock music. That’s right, perhaps one of the most difficult to mix genres. If you’re mixing an EDM track, you have a kick, a bassline, a melody, vocals and perhaps some other little effects and FX sounds.

While this is the same for rock music, the content of these tracks tends to be far more varying, making mixing a much more complicated process. We also need to consider the fact that instruments being recorded by a microphone, such as the overhead mics on your drum kit, or plugged into a computer recorder are recorded at different volumes, so that’s something we’ll need to bear in mind.

Below, we’re going to explore some of the things you need to know when it comes to mixing certain elements of your rock song, helping you perfect your technique, optimize your tracks or album and preparing your next songs to sound perfect for your worldwide fans.

Drums

Drums

We’re going to start with the drum part of your song because it’s one of the most important. This is because your drum is the rhythm of your track (for most songs) and will provide the beat the entire way through. By mastering your drum track, we can then master the rest of the track around it.

However, note that drums are far more important than this. The drumbeat of your track defines the style of your music and even your band. Let’s be honest, many of us can listen to the first 3-5 drum beats of a track, and we’ll know exactly who the artist is. This is the power of professionally-implemented mixing.

To start with, it’s highly recommended that if you’ve recorded multiple samples of your drum set, such as the kick, toms, snare, cymbals, etc. you should mix all these elements together into one track. This means mixing, EQing and panning, etc. all elements of your drum track, so they sound perfect together.

Next, you’ll want to place your drum track in your mix (mix being the overall layout of your track). One of the most common ways of doing this is panning your tracks to sound like they would in an actual drum kit.

This means having your kick and snare in the center, your hi-hat slightly to one side and then positioning your toms and cymbals slightly to either side of your kit. Of course, you can play around to see what works best for you here and how your drum kit was set up while you were recording.

Whatever layout you decide on, it’s always best to keep your kick in the center since this is the ‘heaviest’ sound and can remain the anchor for the rest of your track. Once this is done, we can move onto to EQing your track.

The chances are that your drum sounds are fairly raw, especially if they were recorded using an overhead mic, so you’ll need to be aggressive with this next part.

Of course, there are limitless possibilities when it comes to EQing to finding the unique sound you’re looking for, far too many opportunities to list here, but there are some basic techniques you may wish to use.

For example, you could add a slight boost to the decibels of your kick drum in the low-end, helping it to have a more ‘bassy’ and defined punch every time it kicks. You might want to do the same to your midsection, even if it’s just 3-5khz, to help your mid sounds become more crisp and clear.

Thankfully, there are many tutorials online (especially on YouTube) that can help you find the exact sound you’re looking for.

Finally, when you’re happy with all your EQ settings, you’ll have the chance to add any effects you wanted to use. This, of course, depends on what plugins and software you’re using, but adding a bit of distortion and reverb are perhaps the most popular techniques here.

You may also want to ‘bass boost’ your kick drum slightly, or even add a phaser effect before your ‘drop’ areas to help build up and add a bit of ‘beef’ to your overall drum track.

Bass

Bass Guitars

After you’ve finished working on your drum tracks, you’ll want to move onto your bass guitar. This is because the bass from your bass sounds will link directly to the bass of your drum kit, so it’s an easy and logically next step.

As with the drums, you’ll want to start by positioning (panning) your bass with the bass of your drum track, keeping it fairly central in your song. This will be the case 99.9% of the time, simply because it sounds like a rock song is intended to sound.

Of course, mixing your bass track will be dependent on how you’ve recorded it. You may have recorded it directly through a microphone, which is fine since the sound will be rawer, but in terms of quality and cutting out unwanted sound, you’ll want to try recording directly to your computer source or recording equipment. Whichever approach you took, you’ll have an audio track loaded in your mixing software.

If you have an amp (microphone) recording and a direct recording, you’ll want to combine both recordings, so you can enjoy the best of both worlds. However, when combining your tracks, make sure you pay attention to the fact that your amp-recorded version will have a slight delay at the beginning, perhaps milliseconds, but this will still need to be removed to ensure your tracks are synced properly.

Moving onto the EQ settings, the world’s your oyster and you can EQ your sounds until you’re happy they’re the style you’re going for. However, as a rule of thumb, if you’re looking to produce a warm, inviting sound, add an EQ in the low end of around 50-80hz. If you want your bass sound to be a deep bass, add around 100-150hz. If you’re looking for a really ‘booming’ bass sound, go 200hz+.

Of course, since you’re EQing the low sounds, this will be suited to the style of your rock song. On the other hand, the mid and high sections are much easier to EQ since these areas won’t tend to be the main focus of your song.

Typically, you’re going to want to boost your EQ around 4hz in both areas, simply to make your sounds have more clarity from when they were recorded. Any higher than 8hz and you’ll start to experience unwanted frequencies and tones that just sound like noise.

When it comes to finally compressing your sounds, you’ll want to add just enough compression to keep everything level, such as your bass sounds and your mids notes, but not too much that it loses its punchiness. You don’t want to be squashing your bass guitar track too much since this is one of the key elements of your track.

Once you’ve compressed your track and you have your final sounds, feel free to play around with any FXs and effects that you might want to add, which again relies on what style you’re trying to achieve.

Guitars

Guitars

Finally, we’ve moved onto the guitars of your rock song, easily the most important element to your track that’s going to make your fans go crazy; if you can mix it in properly. As with bass guitars, you may have recorded directly to your recording software using a cable or using a mic/amp recording setup.

Whichever approach you’ve taken, complete this combination process we stated above where you combine all the tracks you’re happy with using into one track that gives you the best out of all your recordings.

However, remember that even the slightest change in tone can be a big difference to the ear, so this may be a process you’ll want to practice, learning how to choose the bits you want to use and which to cut out.

If you’re recording from an acoustic guitar, then it’s recommended that you use one or two microphone-recorded tracks to combine. When you’re happy with your final track, you can start to think about panning your sound.

Unlike the other elements of your track, a classic electric guitar could be panned anywhere, which of course can also depend on how many guitars you have in your song and what part of the song you’re listening to.

For example, a strumming under vocals may want to be slightly off to one side while the vocals are in the center. In some cases, you may have even used a harmonizer pedal to already make sure your guitar and vocal sounds align, in which case they could both be positioned to a central location.

On the other hand, when you ‘breakdown’ into your rocking guitar solo, you might want to move it directly into the center for the full effect. Listen carefully to how you’re positioning your track. For example, if your hi-hat sounds are slightly on the left, you might want to put you higher guitar sounds to the right.

When you’re happy with your sound, you can move onto your EQ settings. However, since an electric guitar is EQed anyway while you’re performing, you should only need to make slight adjustments to make the audio fit well with the other components of your track. For example, you might want to add or remove 2-3dB of headroom, just to make sure that everything sounds equalized against each other.

If you’re playing with an acoustic guitar, such as a thin-neck acoustic guitar, you may want to add 6-10k on the higher end, just to add clarity to the higher sounds. If your track is a busy and complex song, most producers typically knock 100-200hz off the low end simply to stop the final song sounding so ‘muddy.’

Finally, when it comes to compressing your track, this isn’t as important as bass guitars since it will have already been done so while you were recording. You may have also been using effects, such as overdrive or distortion, as well as adding sustain to your track.

In any case, you may want to add a little compression, just to keep every level with the rest of the track, but you can play with this setting until you’re happy with the final sound. On the other hand, acoustic guitars can do with a bit of gentle compression in the right places, specifically towards the higher ends.

For example, in areas where the guitar is being strummed, you might want to add a bit of compression just to help it sound right against the rest of the tracks that make up your song.

When you’re happy that everything works well together, simply experiment and add any effects you want to add to your track, and you’ll be ready to add it to the rest of your rock song!

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