Tricks to make a mix loud and well defined

When I listen to artists like Beck or Muse, their music production seems to have so much clarity, definition and LOUDNESS.
Is it possible on a platform like the iPad to get anything like this?
What apps are best for defining sounds in a mix, getting them sounding clear and as loud as they need to be?
I use Cubasis with other apps directed through Audiobus to do my work. I am mastering using Final Touch.

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  • Just posting to keep an eye on this thread since it's something i've recently taken an interest in

    If i had to venture a guess though i'd say Auria with the fab and psp filters would be a good place to start

  • Haha, I guess we'd all like these answers!
    I'm thinking that it's possible in theory...

  • it's not platform-dependent, it's first of all in the arrangement
    simple fact, but not that simple to achieve ;)
    tools can help, but never do the job on their own

  • So make the sounds all seperate in the arrangement timeline?
    That's a lot of rework for a multi instrument song!
    I'm thinking about noise gating everything.
    Also I think I need to work out how to use a limiter - I feel that might help?

  • I really don't know if you can achieve professional results like the one you mentioned on an iPad but I guess that a professional engineer could at least get some great sounding results.

    To get a great Master you need a great Mix at first so I would concentrate on that one and send it to a professional mastering engineer later. Someone with a proper listening environment and some experience in mastering that kind of music.

    I produce electronic music and I swear on LCR mixing with mono sources. But LCR has been used since the early days so it should sound great with every kind of music.

    Mixing with the Fletcher munson curve in mind also helps a lot if you try to understand how different frequencies will sound on different volume levels.

  • I've heard the Fletcher Munson Curve talked about a lot lately.
    Is it the case that if you listen to a mix at a very low volume and can still hear everything, then it's a good mix?

  • edited May 19 Vote Up0

    Everyone has their own approach but I try and work with a minimal amount of editing. Once you edit one or two things heavily then you end up going down an escalating spiral of editing everything more and more to make it fit together.

    I think of it like this:

    Light editing / finishing touches - you're basically tweaking the filter settings on a beautiful image, or superimposing a castle over that wonderful photo of an empty rural landscape. Maybe you need to make some mild adjustments or general tweaks to bring out the best in what's there.

    Heavy editing / audio surgery - You're basically putting that same picture together out of jigsaw pieces, only you've also got to perfectly shape each piece so that it fits into it's place with surgical precision. One wrong shaped piece and the rest of the picture won't fit together properly.

    Both methods can produce fantastic results in the right hands. It's also worth noting that the light touch approach leans more heavily on the preproduction and tracking stages, to minimise necessary work when editing, mixing and mastering.u

    Here's an example of a track myself and a colleague did in the minimal editing style:
    https://specresmen.bandcamp.com/track/the-beggar-on-the-cold-ground

    I performed every instrument bar the fiddle and vocal. It basically only required a bit of mix adjustment and some light EQing and boosting. My colleague did all the production work on this track - I'm more of a session musician/performance specialist, while he leans more towards record production.

  • @OscarSouth
    I can hear that a lot has gone into the arrangement of that song. It's something I feel I need to consider more when writing parts.
    Nice track :)

  • edited May 19 Vote Up0

    @DefRobot said:
    @OscarSouth
    I can hear that a lot has gone into the arrangement of that song. It's something I feel I need to consider more when writing parts.
    Nice track :)

    Cheers! That one actually came together really quickly. I had come up with the bass riff previously and we just threw a traditional song over it 'The Beggar' and a traditional tune 'On The Cold Ground' then just played out the rest.

    I improv'd the banjo-esque instrument, which is actually quite a cool ethnic instrument from a nation called 'Ryukyu', which no longer exists!
    Here I am (from the session that we recorded that track at!) trying to figure out English Trad tunes on it:
    https://youtu.be/p8KKTqDH-28

    Your point is correct however - the ease of the mixing process is highly dependant on arrangement.

  • @DefRobot said:
    When I listen to artists like Beck or Muse, their music production seems to have so much clarity, definition and LOUDNESS.
    Is it possible on a platform like the iPad to get anything like this?
    What apps are best for defining sounds in a mix, getting them sounding clear and as loud as they need to be?
    I use Cubasis with other apps directed through Audiobus to do my work. I am mastering using Final Touch.

    There are hundreds of answers to this question I'm afraid. But the basics begin with the sound selections and sound design of each element in your mix and the choices you make there. There is no formula for that, but a few things to consider are:

    • Avoid clutter. You can often achieve bigger, louder and more defined mixes by reducing / limiting the amount of elements as opposed to adding more.
    • Define frequency ranges for each element to make sure there is no clashing or overlapping buildups in certain frequency ranges i.e. kick and bass.
    • Make sure your kick drum, if your track has one, is tuned to the key of your song. This sounds trivial, but it really is important in defining the bottom end or weight of your mix.
    • Use EQ to define frequency ranges for each element. Make sure and hipass any element that should not contain low end frequency information. You'd be surprised how many sounds that typically shouldn't contain low end information actually do. If you don't cut this stuff out then it will build up and cause "mud" aka an ill-defined bottom end.
    • EQ cuts are often better than EQ boosts when you're defining the ranges I just mentioned.
    • Don't pan every stereo track hard left / hard right. You may think by spreading everything out as far as possible that it will give you a wider mix. But that is not true. If everything is wide, then nothing will be wide. You have to define context by defining a strong center point. Then, thoughtfully choose which elements you want to push to the far edges of the stereo field.
    • Make sure a majority of your low end information is in mono. This will help with definition.
    • Use compression only when needed, not just as a way to make things louder in a mix. Not everything needs compression.

    That's kind of the tip of the iceberg rundown. You can absolutely achieve mixes on iOS that can compete with mixes done on any other platform. It might not be as easy. But it can be done. A good mix isn't reliant solely on the tools available. It's knowing how to put them together. That said, if you want the best tools available on iOS for mixing and mastering, then I would recommend the FabFilter plugins in Auria. They aren't going to instantly make your mixes better just by using them. But learning how to work with them and the many options they offer is fairly easy, and that can go a long way.

  • @OscarSouth said:
    Everyone has their own approach but I try and work with a minimal amount of editing. Once you edit one or two things heavily then you end up going down an escalating spiral of editing everything more and more to make it fit together.

    I think of it like this:

    Light editing / finishing touches - you're basically tweaking the filter settings on a beautiful image, or superimposing a castle over that wonderful photo of an empty rural landscape. Maybe you need to make some mild adjustments or general tweaks to bring out the best in what's there.

    Heavy editing / audio surgery - You're basically putting that same picture together out of jigsaw pieces, only you've also got to perfectly shape each piece so that it fits into it's place with surgical precision. One wrong shaped piece and the rest of the picture won't fit together properly.

    Both methods can produce fantastic results in the right hands. It's also worth noting that the light touch approach leans more heavily on the preproduction and tracking stages, to minimise necessary work when editing, mixing and mastering.u

    Here's an example of a track myself and a colleague did in the minimal editing style:
    https://specresmen.bandcamp.com/track/the-beggar-on-the-cold-ground

    I performed every instrument bar the fiddle and vocal. It basically only required a bit of mix adjustment and some light EQing and boosting. My colleague did all the production work on this track - I'm more of a session musician/performance specialist, while he leans more towards record production.

    That's a great track! Well performed and mixed.

  • Thanks all for your extensive and excellent advice! I will be implementing what I've read to see what comes.
    De-clutter, less is more, compartmentalise, arrangement.
    All makes good sense :)

  • @DefRobot said:
    Thanks all for your extensive and excellent advice! I will be implementing what I've read to see what comes.
    De-clutter, less is more, compartmentalise, arrangement.
    All makes good sense :)

    Can make the argument that this is pretty good advice for life in general...

  • Mix at low volumes so you can hear the shape of the entire soundscape and rely on the volume fader as your number one tool. But be aware that you'll have to check things at a higher volume periodically, especially bass stuff, due to fletcher Munson curve. But basically the most important thing is level balance. Everything starts there.

  • @JohnnyGoodyear said:

    @DefRobot said:
    Thanks all for your extensive and excellent advice! I will be implementing what I've read to see what comes.
    De-clutter, less is more, compartmentalise, arrangement.
    All makes good sense :)

    Can make the argument that this is pretty good advice for life in general...

    Yes, reading back! My appreciation Zen Master!

  • @db909 said:
    Mix at low volumes so you can hear the shape of the entire soundscape and rely on the volume fader as your number one tool. But be aware that you'll have to check things at a higher volume periodically, especially bass stuff, due to fletcher Munson curve. But basically the most important thing is level balance. Everything starts there.

    Exactly. Level Balance is everything. So true. Since I understood that db is a logarithmic unit that did not behave linear everything made more sense. Gain staging is crucial for my mixes.

    And LCR mixing with mono sources does not mean that everything sounds mono in the end. In my experience it is way more easy to convert a mono source into a stereo one than vice versa (eg. in using a chorus, flanger, phaser, reverb, ping pong delays etc... on top of it).

    And OscarSouth was right: the better the source the less you have to edit in the end.

  • @DefRobot said:
    Thanks all for your extensive and excellent advice! I will be implementing what I've read to see what comes.
    De-clutter, less is more, compartmentalise, arrangement.
    All makes good sense :)

    You're welcome! You've got it... But move arrangement to the front of that list ;)

  • @DefRobot said:
    Haha, I guess we'd all like these answers!
    I'm thinking that it's possible in theory...

    Arrangement, mixing and mastering - major label releases surround the band with seasoned experts specifically to get that sound!
    Mixing and mastering are pretty technical arts, and there really aren't any shortcuts beyond learning and experience. But there are good tutorials out there to help you get going (recordingrevolution on YouTube has a bunch). Even though most of these are using heavy weight PC daws, the concepts are the same and transferable to what tools are available on ios (IMO to Auria Pro specifically).
    What I found when getting into mixing is that a musician's choice may not always be the best thing for making a mix work; their favorite snare or killer guitar tone is great, but it's about giving each instrument it's own space in the mix, and by all means always letting the vocals have front and center. The other thing I found was that using the main tools of eq and compression in mixing was slightly counterintuitive; getting a better bass in the mix may actually be achieved by rolling the low end off!
    And then there's mastering which is a whole 'nother can of worms..... try googling "loudness wars"

    So specifically answering your question, imo, I'd say Auria with fabfilter eq and compression would give you the tools to get the best fat mix on iOS. But it will take a commitment to learn how to use them to get there.

  • As mentioned, a lot of it is just sound selection and arranging. Beginners tend to add a lot of sounds and clutter to a mix that makes it harder for everything to be heard, as well as more difficult to master to louder volumes. EQ can be a great tool to give each sound it's own space, but I always urge restraint here too. You don't need to totally isolate every sound by completely cutting out other freqs, often that just leads to a thin sounding mix. Usually just reducing problematic frequencies a few dB does the trick. Here's a few more indepth guides I've written that might give you some more ideas:

    http://innerportalstudio.com/articles/Mixdowns.pdf
    http://innerportalstudio.com/articles/Mastering.pdf

    I'm a professional mastering engineer as well, so if you have loudness/mastering questions, feel free to fire away as I deal with this every single day.

    Good luck!

  • edited May 19 Vote Up0

    Many years ago I heard someone say 'Crap in, crap out.' That always kind of stuck.

    Also, I think seeing them as 'tricks' won't get a person there, in the same way that song writing 'tricks' won't either. At the level of Beck or Muse getting that sound really is an artform in and of itself

  • edited May 20 Vote Up0

    @brice said:

    @DefRobot said:
    When I listen to artists like Beck or Muse, their music production seems to have so much clarity, definition and LOUDNESS.
    Is it possible on a platform like the iPad to get anything like this?
    What apps are best for defining sounds in a mix, getting them sounding clear and as loud as they need to be?
    I use Cubasis with other apps directed through Audiobus to do my work. I am mastering using Final Touch.

    There are hundreds of answers to this question I'm afraid. But the basics begin with the sound selections and sound design of each element in your mix and the choices you make there. There is no formula for that, but a few things to consider are:

    • Avoid clutter. You can often achieve bigger, louder and more defined mixes by reducing / limiting the amount of elements as opposed to adding more.
    • Define frequency ranges for each element to make sure there is no clashing or overlapping buildups in certain frequency ranges i.e. kick and bass.
    • Make sure your kick drum, if your track has one, is tuned to the key of your song. This sounds trivial, but it really is important in defining the bottom end or weight of your mix.
    • Use EQ to define frequency ranges for each element. Make sure and hipass any element that should not contain low end frequency information. You'd be surprised how many sounds that typically shouldn't contain low end information actually do. If you don't cut this stuff out then it will build up and cause "mud" aka an ill-defined bottom end.
    • EQ cuts are often better than EQ boosts when you're defining the ranges I just mentioned.
    • Don't pan every stereo track hard left / hard right. You may think by spreading everything out as far as possible that it will give you a wider mix. But that is not true. If everything is wide, then nothing will be wide. You have to define context by defining a strong center point. Then, thoughtfully choose which elements you want to push to the far edges of the stereo field.
    • Make sure a majority of your low end information is in mono. This will help with definition.
    • Use compression only when needed, not just as a way to make things louder in a mix. Not everything needs compression.

    That's kind of the tip of the iceberg rundown. You can absolutely achieve mixes on iOS that can compete with mixes done on any other platform. It might not be as easy. But it can be done. A good mix isn't reliant solely on the tools available. It's knowing how to put them together. That said, if you want the best tools available on iOS for mixing and mastering, then I would recommend the FabFilter plugins in Auria. They aren't going to instantly make your mixes better just by using them. But learning how to work with them and the many options they offer is fairly easy, and that can go a long way.

    These pearls of wisdom from @brice & the stuff @OscarSouth brought up are excellent primers in recording techniques. Thanks guys.

    One thing I have learned is no matter how long you've been doing this you can learn something new everyday & seeking that knowledge out is incredibly important no matter what your level of experience or expertise is.

    I've been doing music & recording stuff amateur up to professional since the early '90's but I still try to approach music & audio production like a newcomer: humble, eager to learn, etc. The only difference is I also temper it with zero fear to experiment that someone just starting may not have. I find that if you're willing to experiment and trial and error with the stuff you're creating, the talent & applied knowledge can flow freely without the stop & start of second guessing everything. Especially in this age of UNDO & REDO I try to just DO something, experiment, and not over think it to death...of course, easier said than done sometimes but that's the goal.

    To me the "loudness wars" went against this approach as everyone just said "f**k it, louder is better" and made everything louder, sometimes obnoxiously so. While yes you do want every track of a project (Album, EP, etc) to have a uniform volume you don't necessarily need to have everything right at 0db totally killing all the dynamic range of a recording.

    So I say all this about learning something everyday & experimenting without fear because in a situation like mastering & "loudness" it should be a case by case basis. Try to keep the dynamics to a song that would normally be squashed to shit to a reasonable level. Try that first on several playback tests (earbuds, TV speaker, in the car) and see what it sounds like.

    Don't mean to ramble & I hope I'm explaining myself clearly...@brice laid out some tried & true techniques to get better, 'louder' more clear and present mixes but he also stated that a GOOD mix isn't reliant on the apps/tools available, it's the techniques and approach.

    Louder is not always​ better- clearer, more focused recordings with a punchy rhythm section and defined arrangement is much more effective in my opinion. I can always turn up the track with the volume knob...I can't turn a knob to get a more musical, appropriate mix.

  • @JRSIV said:

    Louder is always​ better-

    ?

  • @wigglelights said:
    So specifically answering your question, imo, I'd say Auria with fabfilter eq and compression would give you the tools to get the best fat mix on iOS.

    unfortunately their Limiter/Maximizer Pro-L does a significant amount of unwanted distortion if driven hard.
    I'd apply the process in 2 or 3 separate steps following each other to keep side effects low (say 3 times 2 dB instead of 1 time 6dB as an example)
    Generally speaking a lot of compression always (!) reduces clarity.
    On vocals certain compressor sounds are just right, but rather avoid them to only gain loudness on other tracks.

  • edited May 19 Vote Up0

    @Tarekith said:
    As mentioned, a lot of it is just sound selection and arranging. Beginners tend to add a lot of sounds and clutter to a mix that makes it harder for everything to be heard, as well as more difficult to master to louder volumes. EQ can be a great tool to give each sound it's own space, but I always urge restraint here too. You don't need to totally isolate every sound by completely cutting out other freqs, often that just leads to a thin sounding mix. Usually just reducing problematic frequencies a few dB does the trick. Here's a few more indepth guides I've written that might give you some more ideas:

    http://innerportalstudio.com/articles/Mixdowns.pdf
    http://innerportalstudio.com/articles/Mastering.pdf

    I'm a professional mastering engineer as well, so if you have loudness/mastering questions, feel free to fire away as I deal with this every single day.

    Good luck!

    I appreciate you sharing your professional insight and always walk away with the central message of restraint which is hard with big amateur fingers, but is one of those admonitions that -inside- you know it makes sense....

  • +1 to @brice's suggestions.

    My tracks have come a long way from paying more attention to panning (including motion, as appropriate), separation of frequencies via EQ (although I am slightly tempted to debate the standard cut-don't-boost line) and also I want to give a shout-out to Audio Mastering (http://apple.co/2rzbSMf) as my app of choice on iOS to get songs much closer to "pro" level. That app has been revolutionary for me, and I prefer it to Final Touch as it just makes more sense to me.

  • @JohnnyGoodyear said:
    I appreciate you sharing your professional insight and always walk away with the central message of restraint which is hard with big amateur fingers, but is one of those admonitions that -inside- you know it makes sense....

    I think restraint is a good way to put it. I think the best advice I can give people in situations like this is only do something if you HEAR a need to do it. It's easy to get (and give) advice online about how to approach something like mixdowns, but it's also easy to get into a trap of applying a bunch of tricks or processing just because you were told to, and not because there's an actual need for it. Sometimes this just makes the learning process longer, because you think you're doing it right based on what people have told you works for them, and you end up doing things that make that really aren't need and are only making things worse.

    Anyway, that's probably an entirely different discussion. :)

    Trust your ears and your gut, often they will guide you better than the theory.

  • I'm not a sound engineer nor a tech person (truly, I'm a tech dummy), and was therefore very intimidated by the prospect of getting into the weeds of mixing and mastering. Thing is, I really wanted to improve the quality of my final products. (Stuff would sound OK on the iPad over headphones, but if I played it anywhere else - el sucko).

    So I finally started digging in. Watching a lot of videos, reading a lot of material, and - most important of all - actually screwing around with things like EQ and compressors and limiters (that I used to blow off as "too techy and complicated" cause they had all these knobs and switches and shit that didn't make synth sounds when you jacked with them). I confess to not fully grasping the science of it all, but - slowly but surely - my stuff is sounding better. Much better, in fact, compared to even a year ago.

    So I guess it's like anything else. The more time you spend with it, the more you'll get out of it. I still got a long way to go, but it's all much easier to work with, and it's even gotten easier to learn the more I've plunged in. Some materials and videos that I couldn't understand at all last year now (mostly) make sense and are much easier to absorb.

    The biggest deal was just getting past that first obstacle of "this is too hard for a hobbyist like me." It's tough, but if I can learn it, anyone can. And it's so worth it.

  • @Telefunky said:

    @wigglelights said:
    So specifically answering your question, imo, I'd say Auria with fabfilter eq and compression would give you the tools to get the best fat mix on iOS.

    unfortunately their Limiter/Maximizer Pro-L does a significant amount of unwanted distortion if driven hard.
    I'd apply the process in 2 or 3 separate steps following each other to keep side effects low (say 3 times 2 dB instead of 1 time 6dB as an example)
    Generally speaking a lot of compression always (!) reduces clarity.
    On vocals certain compressor sounds are just right, but rather avoid them to only gain loudness on other tracks.

    In my experience with Pro-L on the mix bus you need to have proper gainstaging across your mix before you even get to it. Giving it enough headroom will mitigate any distortion issues.

  • Also, I am not sure if it's been mentioned already, but mid/side processing can really go a long way in defining a wide stereo image. A useful approach is to EQ the mid and side channels differently, but subtly in most cases, which gives the perception of separation and depth. But as with all the other tips in this thread, a restrained approach goes a long way.

  • @Tarekith said:
    As mentioned, a lot of it is just sound selection and arranging. Beginners tend to add a lot of sounds and clutter to a mix that makes it harder for everything to be heard, as well as more difficult to master to louder volumes. EQ can be a great tool to give each sound it's own space, but I always urge restraint here too. You don't need to totally isolate every sound by completely cutting out other freqs, often that just leads to a thin sounding mix. Usually just reducing problematic frequencies a few dB does the trick. Here's a few more indepth guides I've written that might give you some more ideas:

    http://innerportalstudio.com/articles/Mixdowns.pdf
    http://innerportalstudio.com/articles/Mastering.pdf

    I'm a professional mastering engineer as well, so if you have loudness/mastering questions, feel free to fire away as I deal with this every single day.

    Good luck!

    Awesome, thanks!

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