Reboot my Brain

Mixing Workshop with Studio ONE and FabFilter Plugins

Welcome to my mixing workshop. In this session, we're gonna take a raw recording of my hard rock band, West Hollywood Rapture, and turn it into a mix that's gonna kick some serious ass.

This is labeled as a workshop because I want you to get hands-on with all the steps I'm about to take - learning by doing. So, here are the three essentials you'll need:

  • Recorded material: I’ve got that covered for you - it’s attached to this document.
  • A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW): I roll with Studio ONE, and I highly recommend you jump on board too. It's the key to keeping up with the steps in this workshop.
  • A couple of Plugins: Let's keep it straightforward—I stick to the stock plugins from Presonus Studio ONE and the mixing plugin suite from FabFilter.

The recorded material comes packed with a bunch of stems. The track we're diving into in this workshop is titled "Reboot My Brain," and it's your classic rock setup: two guitars, a bass guitar, drums, and vocals.

However, here's the twist - the guitars are double-tracked, and the vocals are triple-tracked. And to spice things up even more, I've also captured dry DI signals for each guitar and bass track.

This workshop won't dive into the art of recording tracks but will instead focus on transforming those recordings into a killer-sounding song through the magic of mixing. We'll kick things off by setting up a project in Studio ONE, and I'll walk you through each step I take to craft a mind-blowing mix. I'll break down each move in varying degrees of detail, spicing it up with enough background knowledge so that you can apply these techniques to your own tunes.

Even though I'm rolling with specific tools like Studio ONE and FabFilter plugins, fear not— the mixing process should be adaptable to other software as well. It's on you to translate this knowledge to the software of your choice. That's your part in the groove.

Enough chatter. Time to take the plunge into the pool of ice-cold water. Let's do this.

You also can download the complete workshop as a single PDF here: https://www.andy-hyde.de/RebootMyBrain_MixingWorkshop.pdf

Setting up the Project

Now, let's get down to business and set up the project. This step is like laying down the foundation for a killer mix. I'm using Studio ONE, but if you're not on the Studio ONE train yet, it's all good - adapt the steps to your DAW of choice.

First, you need to know some key details to lay out your project. Here are the crucial outlines:

  • Bit Rate: All stems groove at a solid 44.1 kHz. We’re keeping it crisp and clean.
  • Resolution: The vibe is set at 24 bits for all stems. That’s the magic number for this sonic journey.
  • Tempo: The heartbeat of our song is a cool 90 bpm. It’s the rhythm that’s gonna keep us in the pocket.
  • Song Length: We’re looking at around 3 minutes of sonic bliss. Enough time to tell our story and leave an impression.

Alright, let's get this sonic party started with some Studio ONE magic. Follow these steps, and you'll be on your way to mixing nirvana:

  • Create a new song in Studio ONE:
    Open up Studio ONE and birth a fresh project. Give it a name that screams vibes—how about "Reboot My Brain Sonic Odyssey"?
  • Drag and Drop Your Stems:
    Take those stems I've hooked you up with and drop them like it's hot into your workspace. Watch as your tracks multiply, ready to conquer the sonic realm.
  • Align for Precision Groove:
    Time to get surgical. Align those tracks so they groove seamlessly with the grid. The start of our sonic journey should hit dead on at the first beat of the second bar. Precision is our secret sauce.
  • Intro Clicks for Studio Assurance:
    Give yourself a bit of studio insurance. Toss in some intro clicks—a musical safety net, just in case you need to hit record right at the beginning. It's like having a musical bodyguard for your masterpiece.

With this setup, you've laid the foundation for greatness. The tracks are aligned, the intro clicks are your safety net, and the canvas is ready for your sonic artistry.

Stay tuned as we delve deeper into the mix, shaping the sonic landscape one beat at a time.

But before we dive into the fun stuff, we've got to tackle a bit of a buzzkill task. It's time to corral, organize, and slap some labels on the different elements of our track. Let's also lay down the groundwork for some basic bus routing.

Studio ONE with freshly imported stems

Labeling the Parts of the Song

One thing you should always start with is giving the song a spin. Right now, let's be honest, it sounds pretty awful. But here's the kicker – that's because we haven't worked our mixing magic on it yet. It's all about taking this raw, unpolished gem and sculpting it into a masterpiece of sonic art.

As you're tuning in, you'll pick up on the distinct sections of the song. To make navigation a breeze, let's throw in some markers on the Studio ONE marker bar to highlight these parts.

Give it a shot on your own first—it's a bit of a puzzle, but nothing too tricky. Once you're through, you'll notice that some sections kick off right smack in the middle of the bar. Unconventional, right? Well, I figured, why make it too straightforward for you?

Now, if you really tune in, you'll catch more than just the start of a fresh section. There's a rhythmic switcheroo happening too, a transition from 4/4 to 2/4. Time to dig into the nitty-gritty – pop open that timing bar and slot in those changes, just like you did with the sections on the marker bar. Let's keep the groove flowing smoothly.

You’ll wind up having something like this:

added markers and time changes

Reiterating, it's solid practice to tackle this by yourself, but let's be real—musicians can be a bit lazy on occasion. So, for those moments of musical lethargy, here's a nifty table breaking down the bars of the song and what's cooking in each (particularly noteworthy) bar.

Markers in our song

Ordering the Tracks

With our song's roadmap laid out horizontally, it's high time we shift our gaze vertically. Despite the apparent multitude, it all boils down to a fab five of instruments: drums, rhythm guitar, lead and solo guitar, bass guitar, and vocals.

I've already given the stems some names that should make life a bit simpler. Let's kick off with the drum tracks, and here's the lineup we're dragging to the top:

  • BassDrum
  • SnareDrum
  • Toms
  • HiHat
  • Overheads
  • Ambience

And just to clear things up, "Ambience" is a stereo track capturing the entire drum kit, courtesy of some nifty room microphones.

As previously mentioned, I'm sliding all these tracks up to the summit of the track list. Once perched up there, I'm giving them a cool blue hue and bundling them snugly into a folder track, which, surprise, also gets a splash of blue. Of course, feel free to pick any color that tickles your fancy.

Drums tracks in a folder track

For the bass guitar, we're keeping it simple with just two tracks. There's one track with the miked amp sound and another with the raw DI signal. Following the drum track strategy, we're bundling them up in a folder track and giving them a tint of our favorite color. In my book, bass guitars always get the green treatment.

Bass guitar tracks in a folder track

Let's make sure we're on the same page: a folder track isn't the same as a bus! In Studio ONE, a folder track is simply a visual grouping of a bunch of tracks. However, it's crucial to note that at this stage, all these tracks are still routed straight to the main output. No detours just yet.

With that clarity in mind, let's shift our focus to the guitars. Similar to the bass, we've got a miked amp track and a raw DI track for both rhythm and lead guitars. But here's the twist – each of these guitars has a twin, labeled for the left and right sides. Doubling up for that sweet stereo flavor.

This configuration gives us two additional folder tracks – one for the rhythm guitar and another for the lead guitar. Each of these folders neatly houses four tracks: the miked left and right guitars, alongside their raw DI counterparts. Nice and tidy.

Folder tracks with rhythm and lead guitars

I'm confident you've got the hang of it now. So, let's give it a shot on your end. What about that solo guitar? With just one solo to deal with, the guitar is recorded in the usual manner, boasting a miked amp and a DI track. This should be a breeze – time to whip up a folder track and nestle those two tracks snugly inside.

Done?

Fantastic! Now, let's delve into the realm of vocals, and these are a bit of a different breed. What we've got are vocals for the verses and vocals for the chorus. I opted to record them as separate tracks because, you know, I might want to pamper them differently during the mixing extravaganza. And by "pamper," I mean tweaking not just the volume but also playing around with other fine details like reverb, compression, equalization, and the whole shebang.

Adding to the vocal tapestry, we've got a trio of tracks for each segment. There's the central vocal, wearing the crown as the lead vocal. Yet, we also have two distinct takes, one gracing the left and the other the right side. While I'm not entirely certain if I've stumbled upon the term "side vocals" before, that's what I typically dub them – they're on the sides, after all. Feel free to also label them as doubled vocals or background vocals, though it's worth noting that "background" might be a bit misleading since they don't boast any content beyond the lead vocals.

What we'll eventually cook up is another folder track, playing host to six vocal tracks. No hocus-pocus, just straightforward organization.

Sub-Bus Routing

Now, the plot thickens a bit. Up until now, all tracks were taking a direct route to the main out. To spice things up, simplify the mixing process, and gain more finesse in muting and soloing instruments, let's throw some busses into the mix and reroute the tracks through them.

Time to lay down the drumbeat roadmap. Here's the plan: the fundamental drum components - bass drum, snare drum, and toms - are destined for a bus labeled "basic drums." Meanwhile, the cymbals, including the hi-hat and overheads, are hitching a ride on the "cymbals" bus. These two buses, along with the still-main-bound ambience track, are about to embark on a journey to a top-tier bus we'll call "drumset." And, as the grand finale, this "drumset" bus takes its final bow by routing straight to the main out. Drumroll, please!

Routing of the drums

As evident, I've given the busses a touch of blue as well, albeit a shade darker. Remember, colors are like spices in your mix, and it's entirely your call on which palette you want to paint with.

When it comes to the bass guitar, it's wise to avoid herding both tracks onto the same bass bus. Why? Because the treatment for the wet and DI signals could be worlds apart. This translates to the need for not one, but two busses: one for the miked amp signal track and another for the DI signal track. Keep the processing tailored to each track's unique flavor.

You've got it, and I can practically hear the excitement! Routing one track directly to its own bus also opens up the possibility of sending it straight to the main out, allowing for customized signal processing right on the track itself. Flexibility at its finest!

Absolutely, and here's the kicker. There are two solid reasons why I'm still on board with routing one bass track to one bass bus. First off, it's all about that sweet flexibility. In the case that a second bass track decides to join the party down the road, I'd rather not disrupt the mixing flow by introducing a new bus. That would entail copying all inserts from the track to the bus, and who needs that hassle mid-mix?

The second reason boils down to my preference for uniformity across all tracks. It gets a bit confusing when processing is occasionally handled on the bus, while in other instances, plugins are directly inserted onto a track. In the bygone era of the '80s, when hardware consoles ruled the mixing realm, there were constraints on the number of available busses. However, in today's tech-rich landscape, there's no such limit. We're free to employ as many busses as our creative hearts desire. And honestly, could you give me one compelling reason not to embrace that freedom?

So, here we go with our bass guitar routing:

Routing of the bass guitar

See, what I’ve done! I routed both bass busses to another top-tier bus. The feeling that we'll be diving into the wet and DI bus mix is strong. Having a bus that corrals the complete mix of all bass signals? Smart move. It's like having a control center for all things bass.

The solo guitar setup is akin to the bass configuration. We've got a solitary central track with the amped wet signal and an accompanying DI signal. However, unlike the bass, I don't foresee a reason to blend the wet and dry signals here. In fact, we might not make the DI track audible much at all. Hence, there's no need for a bus for the DI track. This boils down to just one bus for the track carrying the miked signal, and we'll dub this bus "SoloGuitar."

Likewise, the rhythm and lead guitars are hitching a ride on a single bus each, carrying the wet signal. However, the DI signal for both guitars won't be making a detour to any bus; instead, it's on a direct route to the main out (at least for now). The twist here is that both guitars boast a left and a right channel. This neatly culminates in two buses, one labeled "RhythmGuitar" and the other donned the name "LeadGuitar."

Routing of the guitars

You've hit the nail on the head! With three guitar buses (rhythm, lead, and solo) in the mix, the logical next step is, you guessed it, to route these three buses onto a master guitar bus. This master guitar bus then takes its final bow by routing straight to the main out. Harmony in the making!

Let's shift our focus to the vocals, as discussed earlier. We've got two tracks for the lead vocals, one holding the verse and the other the chorus, both centered in the stereo field. We're steering these tracks toward a bus named "LeadVocals." The remaining four vocal tracks, the side vocals flanking the left and right in the stereo field, are making their way to another bus dubbed "SideVocals." Now, these two buses embark on a journey to a master vocal bus, a realm we christen "Vocals."

Routing of lead and side vocals

Alright, we're reaching the final stretch. With our newfound busses—13 in total—four of them proudly stand as top-tier busses: Drumset, Bass, Guitars, and Vocals. And now, the pièce de résistance: introducing the mix bus. This supreme bus gathers all the top-tier busses I just mentioned and, in a grand finale, directs the flow straight to the main out. It's the conductor orchestrating the symphony of your mix.

If you have the feeling you got totally lost during my explanations, have a look at this:

Complete routing table

I skipped the DI tracks that aren't hitching a ride on any bus, just cruising solo to the main out. But hey, doesn't it look pretty cool, huh?

For those who might still be a bit baffled, don't sweat it! Towards the back of this workshop, you'll find an appendix hooking you up with a link to download some awesome goodies. Think the entire Studio ONE project, prepped and ready to roll with all the audio files and slick busses.

Creating a Rough Mix

Let's dive in, hands-on style! In this chapter, we're gonna whip up a rough mix for the track. Now, it won't be your typical radio-ready vibe, but trust me, it's gonna blow that absolute raw version with all the faders cranked to unity gain out of the water. So, buckle up, take a deep breath, and let's fire up that Studio ONE project of yours.

The Meaning of Unity Gain

Unity gain, marked with a big fat 0 (zero) or a slick U, is the sweet spot on the fader scale. When your fader hangs out here, it's like hitting the sound equilibrium – no boost, no cut. In simpler terms: it's all about that unity vibe.

Here's the deal – when you drop a fresh track into Studio ONE, those faders are all cozy at unity by default. Now, it's a friendly gesture from your DAW, but when it comes to the mixing game, it's not exactly your best ally. First off, the vibe between individual tracks, like Lead Vocals and Rhythm Guitar, is way off. Second, the total sum of all our tracks cranked up to unity could push the main out into the red zone, flirting with that nasty clipping territory. Not exactly the sonic paradise we're aiming for.

So, to cook up a sweet sonic concoction, the move is to redefine the gain for every individual audio track in our DAW, while keeping those bus faders chilling at unity. The trick? Make sure the relationships between each track are vibing, and watch that peak level on the master out (or mix bus) – let it groove without spiking above -6 dBfs. Smooth moves, and we're golden.

Cranking up the Faders

Before we let those faders rip, it's time to dial them down to negative infinity. Hit that move now. Grab all those audio tracks (but leave those busses be), and slide those faders south. When you kick off the playback, brace yourself – you should be soaking in silence. Why? Because those busses are sipping on exactly that: audio signals from the tracks, so hushed you won't catch a whisper.

Alright, we've hit pause, but where to kick off? Here's the game plan: let's get cozy with the tracks that pack the most punch for our song. Now, everyone's got their own VIP list, and for me, it's all about that rhythm guitar. Grab those two audio tracks that scream "wet rhythm guitar." Make a pact not to lay a finger on those DI tracks. Oh, and keep that panning dead center for now – we're just warming up.

Hold up a sec! Before you crank those faders up, you've gotta keep tabs on how high they can climb, right? Absolutely. Sure, you've got those petite level meters hanging around on your tracks, mix bus, and main out. But let's be real – they're pint-sized, if not downright microscopic. That's where the savvy move comes in: slap a level meter plugin onto that mix bus. Any kind of metering plugin will do, but for this rough mix groove, I'm vibing with the stock Studio ONE plugin – it's got the cool moniker of "Level Meter."

Level Meter Stock-Plugin from Studio ONE

Alright, are you feeling the groove? Let's kick it up a notch! Start cranking those faders, but hold your horses when you hit an RMS level of around -24 dB. It might sound like some mystical number, and guess what? It totally is. This magic number isn't too hush-hush, yet it leaves plenty of breathing room for the other tracks to slide in without hitting the clip zone. Fingers crossed, we're on the right track.

By the way, as you're cranking those faders, let's dial in on the good vibes. Drop the needle on a section of the song that's bringing the noise – we're talking the loudest part, no holding back. Let the system feel the power as you work those faders into the mix.

Blending the Sound in

Now that we've got our powerhouse instrument holding it down on the mix bus, it's time to weave in the rest of the sonic tapestry. The sequence of instruments is totally your call. Every sound maestro has their own groove when it comes to the order and method, but personally, I’m all about bringing in the lead and solo guitar next.

Grab those wet tracks for the lead guitar, make it a double trouble, and bump up the faders until it grooves just right with the rhythm guitar. Now, hit repeat for the solo guitar—rolling with a single track, right smack in the center of the stereo playground.

It's always a good call to keep that level meter on the radar, watching the mix bus vibes. As more instruments slide into the groove, that mix bus level is on the rise. Right now, we're peaking at -9 dB during the solo—feeling the vibes, but gotta remember, more players are stepping up to the mic. Gotta keep it smooth for what's coming next.

Lead and solo guitar are raising the level on the mix bus

There are a few tricks you can pull out of your audio toolbox to tackle that high level:

  • Ease back on the bus faders for the rhythm, lead, and solo guitar.
  • Simultaneously lower the faders on the guitar audio tracks.

Nevertheless, there are varying opinions on how to address this issue. When it comes solely to volume, it's fair game, and you can even bring down the mix bus fader. This might seem like a no-brainer since it's the mix bus that is too loud.

But picture this scenario: you push all the faders on your audio tracks to the max. This not only results in clipping on individual tracks but also compounds when all that sonic mush converges on the mix bus. Suddenly, you're staring at a mix bus that's clipping. Now, you gradually pull down the fader of that bus until the mix bus is in the clear. All good now?

Far away from good! Even if the mix bus is out of the red zone, those audio tracks are still waving the clipping flag. This means you're essentially mixing distorted signals on a bus, resulting in some heavy distortion and downright unpleasant sounds. The optimal approach? Tackle the problem at its roots by working with faders deeper in the hierarchy than the track you're aiming to lower. In the realm of the rough mix, I make it a point to address the issue at its core – right at the source of all evil: the audio tracks themselves.

Now, snag all those influenced faders – I'm talking about the faders on all the guitar audio tracks – and select them all at once. While the music is grooving, smoothly bring them down until the RMS level on the meter hits -24 dB again. Piece of cake, right?

Now, let's revisit our sonic vision. Currently, the song is sounding a bit lackluster, mainly due to the absence of a solid beat. So, the next step is to inject some energy by seamlessly integrating our drums and infusing the entire track with a pulsating heartbeat.

Punching the Drums in

I consider the bass drum and snare drum as the fundamental rhythm architects. That's our starting point.

Play a robust section of the song, preferably the chorus – it tends to pack a punch. Now, crank up the bass drum fader. Feel that power? Hear it resonating? Keep raising the fader until you've got this awesome heartbeat pulsing through. Next up, glide over to the snare drum fader and let it join the rhythm ride.

While some engineers opt for an isolated drum mix upfront, I take a different route. I prefer to mix each instrument into the ensemble during playback, feeling like I have better control this way. And you should too! So, let's ride those faders. Focus on the snare drum for now. Once you're done, you'll notice a significant improvement in your mix because now it has a heartbeat (thanks to the bass drum) and a pulse (courtesy of the snare).

Time to add a fancy punch to our song – let's dive into the toms. Since toms aren't in constant play, it's efficient to pinpoint a brief section where they shine. Set up a loop playback in Studio ONE and fine-tune the toms fader as that short section repeats.

Loop section for the toms

Moving on to the HiHat. Examine the sections of the song where the HiHat comes into play – mainly in the verse, not so much in the chorus. HiHat intricacies can be tricky, especially for those of us who may have acquired a bit of high-tone deafness with age. :-) If you find your ears hesitating, trust your eyes. Introduce a spectrum meter to the mix bus, and keep a close watch on those higher frequency regions while nudging up the HiHat fader.

Once again, feel free to use any spectrum meter you prefer, but for this workshop, let's roll with the Studio ONE stock plugin called 'Spectrum Meter.' Start by playing the song with HiHat parts, and solo the HiHat track. Check out the spectrum, and you'll notice a bunch of frequencies that don't quite belong there, especially below 200 Hertz – we'll deal with those later. For now, our focus is on identifying the higher peaks of the HiHat. You'll spot significant energy clusters at 2 kHz and beyond. That's the sweet spot we'll be keeping an eye on as we blend the HiHat into our current mix.

Start cranking up the HiHat fader, but be vigilant – ensure that the curve beyond 2 kHz doesn't surpass the midrange curve, predominantly shaped by the guitars.

Frequency spectrum of the HiHat played solo

The overheads share similarities with the HiHat, though their role is more apparent. Nevertheless, keep a keen eye on your spectrum meter to avoid ending up with high-frequency energy that might not be audible to you but could be picked up by others!

We're almost there. The final piece of the drum puzzle is the ambience track, capturing the room information from the drum set through two stereo microphones. This is the only drum track I mix in isolation. I solo the drumset bus and gradually introduce the ambience track until the sound gains a bit more body and spaciousness. However, it's crucial not to go overboard. We'll incorporate additional room effects later, so there's no need to get too extravagant with the ambience track.

As we've incorporated the ambience track, the overall level of the drums has risen and might come across a tad too loud in conjunction with the guitars.

We're facing a similar dilemma as we did with the guitar sum being too loud. We have two options here: we can either reduce the level of the drum bus or, the preferable alternative, dial down the levels of all individual drum audio tracks.

And don't forget about that level meter on the mix bus. Have you given it a look? It's a must. Personally, mine is displaying peaks up to -9 dB, and I'm cool with that. However, if you sense there's not enough headroom – and having a headroom of -6 dB is always a good call – don't hesitate to select all faders from the audio tracks we've worked on so far and bring them down a notch or two.

Pump that Bass

The bass drum we seamlessly integrated into the song in the last chapter already brings in a solid low-end foundation. But let's be real: that's not sufficient for a kick-ass rock song. We crave more. More bass. More punch in the gut. So, now it's time to delve into the bass guitar track – of which we have two. Unlike the guitars, we'll blend the wet and DI audio tracks together in this case.

The process here mirrors the mix of the drums when we introduced the ambience track. Begin by bringing in the wet guitar track into our mix. As you listen to the playback, you should feel those cozy thumps in your stomach.

Feeling good? Alright, let's elevate that feeling. Hit that solo button on your bass bus and gradually blend the BassGit DI audio track into the wet track. There's no definitive right or wrong here; it's all about your feelings and taste. Once you're content with your bass cocktail, give it a spin alongside all the other tracks. It should still sound fantastic but perhaps a tad too loud (similar to what we encountered with the drums). You know the drill, right? Gently pull those bass audio track faders down to nestle the bass into your mix.

Vocals are Telling Tales

A rock song is incomplete without its vocals. They play a crucial role, not just carrying the lead melody but also delivering a verbal message. Consequently, many consider vocal mixing the pinnacle of the entire mixing process. It's also why vocals often fall short – mixers shy away from this supreme discipline, making too much fuss about it. Let's take it easy and begin by seamlessly embedding the lead vocals into our mix.

You know the drill, right? What sets the vocals apart here is that we have two lead vocal tracks in this song – one for the verse and one for the chorus. This distinction is crucial because the levels of vocals (and often instruments) in vital sections, like the chorus, tend to be higher than in the verse. Hence, I appreciate the approach of having distinct tracks for both parts.

If you've got recorded material without separate tracks, you have two options: manually edit (cut) those tracks yourself or use automation on the vocal track – a technique I'll be covering later in this workshop.

We're down to the final four tracks – the side vocals. Now, it might seem like we could handle these in a similar way to the guitar tracks. However, in this case, it's a bit different. Unlike the guitar tracks, which are simply stereo tracks panned left and right, the side vocals are here to provide a subtle lift to the lead vocals. So, we're going to try something we didn't do with the guitars: push them hard left and right and mix them in solo mode with the lead vocals:

  • Place the vocals bus in solo mode.
  • Hard-pan the side vocal audio tracks to the left and right.
  • Play the verse and gradually raise the faders of the verse side vocals simultaneously.
  • Exit solo mode for the vocals bus and adjust the levels of all three audio tracks (verse lead vocals and the two verse side vocals) to seamlessly integrate them into the overall mix.
  • Now repeat the process for the audio tracks related to the chorus.

Vocal mix for the verse and chorus

With these adjustments, you should hopefully achieve a well-mixed vocal.

Keep in mind that what we're working on is a preliminary mix. Even though the mix is sounding better than before, it's still a long way from perfection. Vocals may lack clarity, guitar walls aren't as fat as they should be, and both the bass and drums might be lacking some punch.

These are aspects we'll address later in this workshop. For now, having a rough mix should be sufficient. As mentioned in the previous chapter, it's highly recommended to follow all the steps outlined in this workshop using your own DAW. However, if you're feeling a bit lazy, you can check out the appendix for a link where you can download a complete Studio ONE project with the rough mix I've created.

Signal Chain Processing

Now that we have our rough mix, it's time to embark on the deep-sea diving journey. The rough mix provides us with an initial vision, allowing us to hear how the song should ideally sound. However, let's be honest – it doesn't sound quite right yet. To achieve a stellar sound, we need to process each track and/or bus. This involves attenuating unwanted frequencies, adding more punch (or less), crafting a perfect stereo image, and tackling various other refinements.

The upcoming chapter will delve into addressing all those issues. Even though we're only utilizing a handful of plugins (preferably those from the FabFilter mixing and mastering suite), it might appear that we're performing similar tasks for every track or bus. Technically, that's accurate, but from an artistic perspective, we're undertaking a variety of tasks.

The Usage of Reference Tracks

Reference tracks are like the secret sauce in the recipe of crafting your unique sound. It's the pre-mixed magic of your favorite bands or artists that you vibe with, helping you carve out your sonic signature. Dive into those tunes, dissect the passages, feel the instruments, and then finesse your own tracks and buses to groove in sync with that reference track vibe.

Now, brace yourself for an underground truth that only a select few seem to grasp: The ultimate game-changer to make your track echo the vibes of the reference masterpiece is... drumroll, please... giving that reference track a damn good listen. It's the not-so-secret secret that unlocks the groove and unleashes the sonic magic.

Reference Plugin MetricAB from ADPTR

When the reference track battlefield opens up, my secret weapon swoops in – MetricAB, the badass plugin parked right on the master bus. Imagine this: a couple of your go-to reference tracks at your fingertips, a mere click away from flipping between your creation and the reference masterpiece. But hold on, there's more. MetricAB doesn't just stop there – it throws down a data-packed showdown, revealing all the juicy details about where your sound and the reference sound dance to different beats.

Now, let's talk turkey – MetricAB doesn't exactly come cheap. Is it worth the coin? Well, my friend, that's a call you've got to make for yourself. Truth be told, you don't need it to spice up your mix game in reference to another track. The real MVP here? Your ears. Whether you're jamming with MetricAB, some other fancy compare plugin, or just an old-school MP3 player, the choice is yours. It's all about tuning into those reference tracks and finding your own groove.

Alright, check this out – the ultimate way to ride the reference track wave is like this:

  • Here's the lowdown: when you're knee-deep in the mix game, don't go comparing apples to oranges. Pick your battleground wisely. I'm talking about zeroing in on a single instrument or aspect – say, the almighty bass drum – and let that be your sonic compass through the mixing wilderness.
  • Hit play on that reference track, but don't be too quick on the draw to switch back. Let the vibes sink in. Give your brain a minute to cozy up to the sound – we're talking a chill 30 to 60 seconds here.
  • After that stretch, flip the switch back to your own jam. Get a grip on what sets that particular element in your track apart from the reference. Is it cranked up? Got more boom? Packing an extra punch? Whatever it is, time's ticking. You've got a mere 30 seconds to soak it in, 'cause after that, your brain's wiping the slate clean, and you'll be back at square one if you didn't catch the vibe in that window.

I know it might sound a bit tedious, but it's the only way to properly leverage reference tracks. The alternative, if you don't want to go down this route, is to skip using a reference track altogether and just craft your own sonic vibe.

Building a Massive Wall of Guitars

Alright, let's dial it in for our rhythm guitar. We're aiming for that thick, colossal wall of sound, but we also want it to glisten without being too abrasive. Think of the vibes in "Shine On" by "Crashdiet" as our guiding light.

A Wall is Usually Wide

Recall our moves in the rough mix – we've got two rhythm guitar tracks, both channeling their energy into the RhythmGuitar bus, standing shoulder to shoulder right in the heart of the stereo spectrum.

Well, here's the plot twist – that's not their sweet spot. To erect our colossal wall, we've got to broaden our guitar game, crank up the stereo vibes. Lucky for us, we're sitting on a double-tracked recording. Why make it complicated? Let's just swing the pan of the first rhythm guitar left and the second one right. Easy stereo magic!

The struggle kicks in when you start pondering how wide you want those guitars to be. Some engineers go all-in, slamming one guitar 100% to the left and its counterpart 100% to the right, while others argue that this approach can yield an artificial vibe.

In such scenarios, it's crucial to trust your ears and explore what resonates most with your taste.

Here's a cool trick to help you discover your sweet spot for panning by sweeping through the stereo field:

Pan Sweeping for the rhythm guitars

  • Set the panning for the RhyGit L channel to 100% left.
  • Set the panning for the RhyGit R channel to 100% right.
  • On the RyhtmGuitar bus, where both channels converge, insert a Dual Pan plugin from Presonus.
  • Activate the Link button to synchronize both channels.
  • Use the Width knob to adjust the panning to your preference. For example, if set to 90%, it means that the left channel will be played 90% to the left, and the right channel 90% to the right.

Emphasizing the Rhythm Guitars

Indeed, heavily recorded guitars with a lot of distortion often lose their dynamic range. Rhythm guitars, in particular, with distortion, can maintain a consistent level throughout the entire song. However, in this specific track, there are crucial moments where we aim to inject some excitement into the overall guitar sound, especially with the rhythm guitars.

Remember when we labeled the song structure and incorporated those changes in the time signature to 2/4? Take a listen to these sections once more. They serve as highlights, where we aim to infuse the rhythm guitars with an additional thrill, allowing them to cut through the mix more than they typically would.

Now, let's bring in our DI tracks. What we'll do is create two new channels (left and right) and paste segments of the DI guitar signal onto these channels to accentuate the rhythm guitars.

To achieve this, start by creating two new channels named "RhyGit Thrill L" and "RhyGit Thrill R." Pan both channels hard left and right, similar to the regular rhythm guitar channels. Finally, route them to the RhythmGuitar bus.

Next, duplicate the content from both DI tracks onto the newly created thrill channels.

Precisely cut out the segments from the thrill channels that should not be emphasized. For accuracy, I recommend using Studio ONE's editor view by selecting the event and pressing F2. This provides a clearer view of the waveform, reducing the risk of accidentally cutting out important transients or elements.

2/4 element with crossfades

Make sure to throw in some slick crossfades between each isolated event in your fresh track. Just grab all those standalone gems in the track view, swipe a frame over them, and then hit up Shift-X on your keyboard. Check out the pic above to peep those smooth fade-ins and fade-outs at the event edges.

For obvious reasons, I skipped the 2/4 section during the solo. I mean, it's called a solo for a reason, right? It's all about dialing in on the sweet melody of that solo guitar. Adding too much rhythm guitar vibe in this section would just feel a bit off, you know?

I feel you—this might seem like a bunch of fuzzy work, and truth be told, you could totally skip it if you're feeling lazy. But here's the real talk: It's this kind of fuzzy, meticulous effort that separates a quick demo mix from a full-on sonic masterpiece. Embrace the fuzz, and your sound will thank you later.

Once you wrap it up, you'll be left with two fresh tracks, shining bright like the highlighted champs below:

The thrill tracks based on the DI guitar recordings

When you throw those thrill tracks into solo mode (or toss them into the mix with all the other goodies), it might hit your ears a bit, well, crappy. That's not the heavy music vibe we're after. So, the next move in the groove is to dive into some reamping.

So, here's the game plan: we're rolling with the Ampire plugin from Presonus to kick things up a notch. Of course, feel free to go wild with whatever suits your fancy—maybe run it through a sophisticated hardware processor like the Line6 Helix. But for this workshop, we're keeping it real with the stock tools of Studio ONE.

Now, since we're packing two stereo channels, it's double trouble with the Ampire plugins—gotta drop one on each channel. But hey, watch out for that CPU munching! To keep things running smooth, let's shake up the routing a bit first:

Routing of the rhythm guitars

Time to streamline the ride: Merge those thrill channels onto a fresh bus we'll call "RhyGit Thrill Reamp." Now, link that bus straight to the RhythmGuitar bus. With the stereo sum of those thrill guitars on the new bus, we're ready to spice things up. Toss the Ampire plugin right onto this bus instead of juggling two instances on the stereo tracks. Efficiency move to save that precious CPU juice.

Let's keep it breezy with the Ampire plugin settings—no need to overthink it. Stick with the default vibes: a sweet MCM 800 (basically channeling that Marshall JCM 800 goodness, always a solid pick) paired up with a 4x12 cab. Easy peasy.

Ampire settings for the thrill guitar

I threw in a little twist for flavor—activated the Tube Dreamer pedal down at the lower left side of the plugin window. It's like tipping my hat to the Ibanez Tube Screamer, another trusty sidekick in the world of distortion pedals. Just a subtle move to spice things up.

When you listen to the crucial sections now in context of our mix, its like that the newly created thrill tracks are much too loud. Sure. The idea of lowering the levels of the two stereo tracks is not so good at this point, since it would just mean to lower the input level for the Ampire plugin we have on the bus of those tracks. In this case it’s a must to adapt the level on the RhyGit Thrill Reamp bus.

Forming the Rhythm Guitar Tone

Now that we've got this sweet rhythm guitar performance, let's get into the nitty-gritty of our signal chain, starting off with the equalization game. I'm rolling with the FabFilter Pro-Q 3 for this workshop, but hey, feel free to go with your go-to equalizer. Here's a pro tip: Opt for an equalizer that throws in some dynamic EQ magic. And don't sweat it if you don't have a fancy plugin – even the stock EQ plugin from Studio ONE can pull off dynamic equalization. You got this.

Ditch those internet cheat sheets dictating which frequencies to boost or cut. Let's keep it real—every guitar tone is a unique beast. It's a cocktail of how it was miked up, the amp, the guitar, the pedals, you name it. So, wave goodbye to those specific cheat sheets commanding you to drop 800 Hertz with a Q of 3 by -3 dB. That's just noise, not mixing wisdom. Can't stress this enough: trust those ears of yours. They're the real MVPs in this game.

For sure, it's pretty handy to be in the know about the typical frequency ranges in the audible spectrum. Check out this table:

Frequency ranges

When I'm slapping on an EQ for a track, I don't stick to rigid rules or rely on cheat sheets. I've got my eyes on those frequency ranges we talked about earlier, thinking about the vibe I'm chasing. Time to spice up the RhythmGuitar bus with an Equalizer—let's get to work on that now.

But before I have a look at the single ranges, I generally limit the spectrum for the instrument I’m working on, which means that I apply a low-cut and a high-cut filter to the equalizer. Don’t bother to do this on any instrument, even on the bass and the kick drum. But more on this will follow later. Right now, let’s have a look at the high and low filters for our rhythm guitar:

High- and Low-Cut filter on rhythm guitar bus

Guitarists, they love to fatten up their sound with a heap of bass. Sure, it gives that guitar some serious body when it's flying solo. But in the mix, where you've got the kick drum and bass vying for that same frequency space, drowning your guitar in bass is a no-go. Same story up in the high frequencies—those cymbals and HiHat love to hang out there. Time to carve out some space wisely.

We're throwing on a low-cut and high-cut filter party here. The low-cut filter? Set that bad boy as high as you can without messing with the guitar's deep foundation. Maybe start at 60 Hertz and then sweep upward. Feel that guitar tone thinning out? Ease it back a bit, and boom, you're in the sweet spot.

Now, let's pull the same trick with the high-cut filter. Kick off at 12 kHz and roll back until you sense that airy vibe slipping away from the guitar tone. Hit the brakes right before it feels too snug, give it a few extra Hertz, and you've nailed it.

By the way, in the grand mix marathon, you're constantly playing the fader game—tweaking those levels like a pro. Once I tossed in that EQ on the RhythmGuitar bus, it hit me—I could use a smidge more volume. Bumped up the bus fader by 1.2 dB, and suddenly, we're groovin' a bit louder.

Now, let's dive into those frequency ranges we laid out in our table. Since we've already kicked the Sub-Bass and Bass to the curb with our low-cut filter, it's time to scope out what's cookin' in the Low-Midrange.

When you're green in the game or feeling a bit uncertain about what a particular frequency range does to an instrument, here's the golden rule: trust your damn ears. Drop an EQ node right in the heart of that frequency range, dial in the Q factor to snugly hug the range you're eyeing, and throw it in solo mode. Let those ears of yours be the judge.

I threw in a node at 237 Hertz, right smack in the middle of the Lower Midrange. Q factor set to 1.6, and I took it for a spin. Overall, this range seems to play nicely with the mix, but there's a whisper of some resonances, especially when the guitar's getting all palm-muted. Gotta keep an ear out for those sneaky nuances. Watch what I’ve done:

Dynamic EQ of the Lower Midrange

When I kicked back and tweaked the gain for this node, the whole track felt the vibes. But I wasn't about to let the whole groove take a hit – just needed to mellow out when things got a bit too lively in that specific zone. So, I turned that node into a dynamic EQ maestro. The baseline gain stayed chill at 0 dB, but I threw in a dynamic gain of -3 dB. That meant when the scene got too intense in that range, the signal took a smooth -3 dB dip, no questions asked. I fine-tuned the threshold during the verse's palm mutes, shifted the node's frequency up a notch, and decreased the Q to 1.3 for that extra sonic finesse.

Alright, moving on to the Midrange – the sweet spot in our sonic journey. Drop a fresh EQ node right smack at 425 Hertz, right in the Midrange heart. Crank up that Q to a smooth 3, then hit play and soak it in. Feel the vibes, my friend.

Totally feel you on that. Sometimes, you just gotta let the good vibes roll, right? If the Midrange is already speaking your language and the guitars are singing their sweet tunes, no need to stir the pot. It's all about catching those moments when a tweak really cranks up the goodness. So, if it ain't broke, no need to fix it. Let those frequencies do their thing, and we'll hit the spots that truly need some sonic TLC.

Time to dial in some presence in the Upper Midrange – I sensed the rhythm guitars were craving a bit more spotlight in the mix. So, I dropped in a node, spread that vibe with a broad Q of 1.5, and gave it a gentle push with a +1.6 dB gain at 1.1 kHz. It's like bringing the guitars to the front row without stealing the show. Take a spin and let your ears soak it in, but hey, no need to blast the volume. Subtlety is the name of the game – let's finesse, not overpower.

Time to let those guitars breathe and shine. I threw in a high-shelf move at 6 kHz, cranked it up with a friendly +3.8 dB boost, and spread the love with a broad Q of 0.8. Now we're talking openness without losing the vibe. And hey, no worries about the super high frequencies – the high-cut's got that covered, keeping things in the safe zone. Take a listen, let it flow, and savor the newfound clarity.

My EQ curve now looks like the following:

Complete EQ curve for the rhythm guitars

I've got solid reasons for holding back on the FabFilter preset for this curve—because this curve is all mine. You've got to get hands-on with those rhythm guitars and carve out your own groove. Just for the sake of honing your skills. I wouldn't advise mirroring my parameters exactly either. That's precisely what I meant when I brought up cheat sheets: don't just follow the steps, dive in, make your own moves, and the only way to nail it is by getting your hands dirty.

Rhythm Guitar Dynamics

You won't find me reaching for a compressor too often when dealing with a distorted guitar track, despite the sea of advice online pushing you in that direction. But let's break it down—what's the point of a tool that squashes the dynamics of a signal when that signal is already riding the no-dynamics wave courtesy of its distortion? Now, if we're chatting about acoustic or squeaky-clean electric guitars, or even those with just a hint of crunch, that's a whole different ball game. But for the gritty, distorted rhythm guitars like the ones in our track, slapping a compressor on them is a definite no-go.

So, what's the deal with this chapter? Well, while compressors usually hog the spotlight in dynamic processing discussions, there's another side to the story. Instead of dialing down the dynamic range, there are moments when it's actually desirable to crank it up a notch.

What I'm getting at is the palm-muted section in the verse of our song. I'm aiming for a killer attack, followed by a quick drop in volume right before the next hit. Now, this is the total opposite of what your typical compressor would do. We're talking about expanding the sound here, and guess what? We're bringing in an expander for this gig. In this workshop, I'm rolling with the FabFilter Pro-G, a gate with some extra expander mojo thrown in.

Okay, let’s just jump in and insert an instance of the Pro-G on our RhythmGuitar bus.

The FabFilter Pro-G Gate / Expander

My goal for the expander is to dial down the signal when it dips below a certain threshold. Unfortunately, the Rhythm Guitar bus is playing hard to get with dynamics, making this task quite the challenge.

But, check this out! We've got a DI track of the rhythm guitar, and by the very nature of its clean sound, it's loaded with dynamics. That right there is the solution to our dynamic drought. We'll let the expander do its thing on the distorted signal from the Rhythm Guitar bus, but we're throwing in the DI track as the source for this sonic magic. This, my friend, is what they call side-chaining.

To dive into side-chaining, just hit up that little source button hanging out on the right side of the side-chain label at the top of the plugin window. From there, check the send checkbox for the RhyDI L channel as your source, and make sure that the pan for this channel is dead center. You'll notice that Studio ONE has kindly set up a send in the DI channel. Now, here's a key move: since sends are typically post-fader, and our fader is chilling at negative infinity, nothing's going to make its way to the Expander. So, hit that tiny button on the right side of the send fader to flip the switch and turn the send into a pre-fader vibe.

Setting a DI channels as a side-chain source

Alright, let's take the expander for a spin on the Rhythm Guitar bus. Toss that bus into solo mode and give it a listen. At the moment, there might not be much to groove to—the plugin is pretty much playing gatekeeper. What this means is, if the level dips below the threshold, it's getting the 10:1 reduction treatment. Not exactly the vibe we're after, but we're heading in the right direction.

There are a couple of tweaks needed to get this vibe just right:

  • We've got to activate that external side chain action. Right now, the expander is vibing with the internal signal. Click on the "Expert" label down at the bottom. Boom! An extra tab opens up, and there, my friend, you can select "Ext" in the side-chain section. Let the external groove in.
  • Now, start sliding that threshold around until you catch that sweet attack on those palm mutes. No hard and fast rules here—just dial in what you're feeling. Sure, the guitar might sound a bit choppy for now, but we're about to smooth things out in a hot minute.
  • Here's the lowdown on that choppiness—it's all about the ratio. Right now, it's defaulting to 10:1. What that means is, if the source level sits 1 dB below the threshold, the target signal gets knocked down by a hefty -10 dB. Way too much drama for our liking. We do want some attenuation, but not that extreme. So, slide that ratio down to a value that makes the sound flow more smoothly.
  • If things are still sounding a tad choppy, no sweat. The release rate is your ticket to shaping how long it takes for the gate to hit maximum attenuation. Give that release rate a boost until those palm mutes start singing softer and smoother.
  • And just to dive into the time parameters: the attack rate represents the time it takes for the gate to swing wide open once the threshold is crossed. It's crucial to keep this setting pretty low to ensure we don't clip the transients of those killer palm mutes. So, stick with a cool 1 ms, and you'll be riding the wave like a pro.
  • Last but not least: switch the oversampling to 2x to avoid distortions.

Expansion settings for the rhythm guitar

Let's fine-tune that track. Specifically, we're all about expanding those palm mutes, leaving the longer chords untouched, and definitely keeping the rest of the song in its groove. The secret sauce here lies in wielding automation on the send level of the DI guitar (the very source of our expander).

We do that by right-clicking on the send in the RhyDi L bus and then select “automate send level”.

Send Level Automation

We end up with a horizontal line shown in RhyDI L track of the track window:

Send Level Automation Wave

Let's play with the automation tools to fine-tune that curve. Right now, it's riding the steady 0 dB wave, giving us full expansion round the clock. Now, to dial it down during those non-palm-mute stretches, we're cranking that send level to the maximum. Because, hey, with such a high level, we're in the sweet spot where expansion takes a breather.

Automated Send Level Curve of the rhythm guitar bus

As always, there are various ways to automate that curve. If you've got some slick fader hardware, like the Faderport from Presonus, you can kick back and let the magic happen. Just throw on the full track, set up that send curve on the hardware, and vibe out. Your only task? Ride that fader while the jam plays, and boom—all your tweaks get effortlessly etched into the curve, no sweat.

Another route is to paint in those subtle curve changes with your mouse. It's the only way to roll if you don't have the sweet touch of fader hardware. That said, I’m laying down a strong recommendation to snag some. It’s not just about the fun—it's a game-changer, super handy, and adds that sweet 80’s sound engineer vibe to your arsenal.

All set! Let's cruise into the next chapter, where we're about to inject some life into our guitar, dialing up the depth factor.

Adding Depth to our Rhythm Guitars

The rhythm guitars are bringing some cool vibes, but there's a missing piece in the puzzle – details about the room they're jamming in. Right now, they're as dry as the Sahara, recorded without a hint of reverb or delay. Time for a game-changer. Let's fix that.

Reverb with distorted rhythm guitars? That's a bit of a balancing act. Medium and large reverbs might flirt with awesomeness in solo mode on the guitar channel, but here's the kicker – they can be troublemakers, dampening the guitar punch and tossing it way to the back. Picture a guitarist shredding in a massive cathedral – not the vibe we're going for, right? We're after that intimate, tight room feel. Time to create some magic. First move? Slap on an effect channel and dub it "GuitarRoom." Let the transformation begin.

Alright, let's spice things up. Throw a send from the RhythmGuitar bus over to our fresh creation, the "GuitarRoom" effect channel. Now, it's time to work that magic wand – insert the Pro-R from FabFilter, my go-to wizard in the plugin realm. Watch the sparks fly.

Rhythm guitars send to an effect channel

FabFilter’s Pro-R boasts an arsenal of presets. Now, I'm not usually one to cozy up to presets, but here's the scoop: crafting a meticulous room can morph into a full-time gig when juggling every parameter, from the decay rate curve to the EQ curve. Call me lazy, but I often take the express lane – snag a preset and give it a tweak or two to suit my vibe. Life's too short for unnecessary complexity, right?

For the rhythm guitars, I rolled with the Small/Glassy Guitar Room preset. And let me spill the beans – that's pretty much the golden ticket for us. Especially with guitars, nailing the reverb's EQ (the yellow curve) is key. Gotta slap on that low-cut filter to kick the mud out of the low-end. Trust me, we're not here to muddy the waters.

Reverb EQ with low-cut filter

Feel free to throw in a dash of your own flavor by tweaking the addition parameter knobs—brightness, character, distance, and stereo width. But truth be told, this preset is already a charmer. Just one tiny detail left on our checklist: peek at the send level of our rhythm guitars to the effect channel.

To dial in that sweet spot, let's give the rhythm guitar a spin in the full company of all its musical buddies. Here's a slick move that usually grooves well across different scenarios when playing with effects:

  • Dial the level down to negative infinity.
  • Fire up the playback and let it vibe with the mix.
  • Crank up the send level until it makes its presence known, but not like it’s crashing a party.
  • Take it down a notch for that sweet, seamless blend.

I'm gonna hammer this point – tread lightly with reverb, my friend. Too much, and your song might as well have taken a spin in the washing machine for two hours – not the vibe we're after. In the world of contemporary music, less is more when it comes to reverb. We're talking subtle, almost like a secret ingredient. Keep it low-key; we'll dive into a few exceptions down the road.

Diving Depper Into the Sonic Sea

Here's a little secret sauce for you – delay often swoops in as the unsung hero, a worthy substitute for reverb. Why? 'Cause it doesn't drown your sound like reverb tends to. It adds that slick touch without turning your track into a soggy mess.

To amp up the roomy vibes for our rhythm guitars, let's spice things up. Toss in a fresh effect channel and throw down the Timeless plugin from FabFilter. Now, for the grand finale, send our RhythmGuitar bus over to this effect channel. We're dialing in depth without letting those guitars take a dive into the deep end.

FabFilter's our sidekick once again, and this time, we're riding the presets wave. Room effects? Dive into the Slapback category – it's the good stuff. For our current channel, let's snag the "Characterful Imaging" preset. Trust me, it's got the mojo we need for these guitars, no tweaks necessary. Let the sonic adventure continue!

Slapback delay for the rhythm guitars

Time to fine-tune the magic potion – check the send level to our RoomDelay effect channel. I've got mine cozying up around -7 dB, and let me tell you, it's hitting that sweet spot. Adjust to taste and let the cool vibes flow.

The usage of effects channel always bring some side effects. One of this side affects is, that the track we’re sending from will be louder, because it’s additionaly send to the main out. So it’s time again to ride the fader of the RhythmGuitar bus, into the lower direction, to get the volume of that guitars in the mix correct again.

Alright, my friend! Rhythm guitars locked and loaded. Let's roll on to the next track: the lead guitar. What's our game plan?

Lead Support for our Rhythm Guitars

The concept of 'lead guitar' is pretty flexible. Some folks picture it as the ultimate solo machine, but for me, it's like the sidekick to the rhythm guitar. It doesn't have to drop mind-blowing solos every time; instead, it's all about throwing down killer riffs or adding some melodic backup to the rhythm guitar.

Alright, let's take a stroll through the entire song with the lead guitar flying solo mode.

  • In the intro, the lead guitar steps into the spotlight with some seriously unconventional moves—just cruising down a power chord progression, while the rhythm guitars are holding it down in the mighty E zone.
  • In the verse, the lead guitar's got the rhythm guitar's back, dishing out a slick, high-tuned, partially palm-muted riff that's all about that sweet, repeated pattern. And just when you're settling into the groove, brace yourself for the magic—because at the verse's close, it hammers out a killer turnaround riff on the lower strings. Remember that riff, 'cause it's a bit of a hook, and we're gonna treat it like the VIP it is.
  • To amp up the thickness, the lead guitar jumps into chorus action, doubling the rhythm guitar but throwing in a slightly different rhythm pattern for that extra spice. And just when you think it's wrapping up, we hit you again with that killer hammer riff—yeah, the one that already had you buzzing at the end of the verse. It's like the song's secret weapon, and we're unleashing it again for maximum thrill at the close of the chorus.
  • Now, in the interlude, the lead guitar joins forces with the rhythm guitar in the second half. But here's the twist—listen closely, because we're not talking perfect synchronization. It's more like that rebellious vibe, a bit off-kilter. Right now, it might sound like an amateur school band attempting something big but falling short. Trust me, we're gonna get our hands dirty here and fix it up real nice.
  • In the solo, we're not pulling out any crazy stunts—just keeping it real. The lead guitar rolls with the same chord progression as the rhythm guitar, but we're flipping the script with a rhythm pattern that's all about that sweet variation.

Opening up the Arms of the Lead Guitar

Before we dive into the LeadGuitar bus, let's get it settled in our stereo field, just like we've already laid down the law with the rhythm guitar.

Here's the game plan: I don't want the lead guitar erecting this massive wall; instead, let's nudge it a bit more towards the center of the stereo field. Now, don't get me wrong, we're not going dead center, but it shouldn't sprawl out as wide as the rhythm guitar. Why? Because the lead guitar's got a crucial role to play, and important players deserve to be more center stage, right? Let's keep the spotlight on what truly matters.

Time to give those two lead guitar tracks some breathing room. Step one: hard pan them left and right. Next move, hop onto the LeadGuitar bus and throw in a dual pan. Hit that link button, and now comes the artistry—find that sweet spot. After a dance with the context of the total mix, I landed on a sweet pan setting of 70 percent left and right. Let's give our lead guitar the space it deserves, and let it shine just right in the mix.

Panning of the lead guitar tracks

The Deep Valley of Frustration (Editing During the Mix)

The title of this chapter might sound like the name of a Black Metal album, but truth be told, it's just a fancy way of saying we're diving into the nitty-gritty of mix editing. Brace yourselves, because this part? Yeah, it kinda sucks.

While jamming through the lead guitar prelisten, it hit us – there's a bit of a rift with the rhythm guitar in certain chunks of the interlude. Now, before we dive into the editing trenches, let's check if the left and right channels of the lead guitar are locking in step. 'Cause, my dude, if they're not on the same wavelength, we might need to take a few extra laps around the editing block.

Hit play and solo mode on the LeadGuitar bus. All good vibes during the interlude, right? Both guitars synced up, cruising smoothly. But hold up, if you didn't slam the brakes on that play button right away, you might've caught a glimpse of the lead guitar intro in the solo. What in the world? It's like sync heaven in the interlude and then bam, total sync meltdown at the solo. Time to clean up this sync mishap.

We've got a timing rebel in the solo section, and one of the lead guitar tracks is consistently running fashionably late. Now, the burning question: which track is the master of its own time zone?

Here's the detective work: throw the RhythmGuitar bus into solo mode, and team it up with one lead guitar channel in solo mode. Quick findings reveal the right lead guitar channel vibing in sync with the rhythm guitar, while the left channel is doing its own syncopated dance. Looks like we've got a lone wolf on the left causing all the timing mischief.

Quick reminder: Before you jump into the heart surgery of editing, always make a full copy of the track you're about to slice and dice. It's like a musical insurance policy—better safe than sorry. If you have done that, open the waveform of the left lead guitar in the Editor by pressing F2, head to the start of the interlude and watch carefully.

Left lead guitar wave in the editor view

Thank God, in this case it’s very obvious what’s going on. You can see that transient of the first pick of the lead guitar on the solo is to late, about 1/16th note. You can try to check the following transients (as far as they are recognizeable during the low dynamic of the distroted guitar) and you will recognize that this delay of a 16th note keeps on going until the end of the solo part.

Shifted lead guitar part on the left channel

The problem can be solved relative easy by setting cuts at the beginning and the end of the solo section and just shift this part a little to the left until it plays in sync with the right channel of the lead guitar. And don’t forget to insert some cross fades!

Now that we've untangled the solo section snarl, we're left with the lingering interlude issue. Turns out, it's not just one renegade lead guitar channel lagging; it's a synchronized delay party. Time to rally the troops and temporarily group those lead guitar channels—just select 'em and hit CTRL-G. Teamwork makes the dream work, right?

Interlude part edited in the middle of the section

The desynced drama doesn't kick off right from the get-go, but sneaks in just after the second beat of the bar. And lo and behold, by the end, the guitars are back in sync harmony. Time to get surgical—let's make our incisions right in the heart of the matter, shift that unsynced snippet to the left, throw in some crossfades, and hope for the best. It's a bit of a hack, a cheap trick, and I won't lie, when you hit play on that lead guitar solo, it might not be winning any awards for sonic perfection. But hey, that's the price tag for dealing with wonky recordings or questionable performances from our rockstar musicians.

Forming the Lead Guitar Tone

Remember how we crafted that killer tone for our rhythm guitar? Brace yourself, 'cause we're about to dive into the same sonic sculpting adventure for our lead guitar now.

First things first, let's kick off with the mandatory low-cut filter. Easy-peasy—set a high-pass and sweep it up. So, spill the beans, what did you get? For my ears, it's a slick low-cut at 100 Hertz, rocking a fairly steep slope with 36 dB per octave. Meanwhile, I've got the high-cut filter strutting its stuff at 10 kHz, flaunting a more laid-back slope of 12 dB per octave.

Caught a vibe in the low-midrange, precisely at 158 Hertz—kinda cool when the LeadGuitar bus is in solo mode, but had this gut feeling it might get a bit too cozy with the bass. Took action with a -2.8 dB cut and a snazzy high Q of 7.0. Result? Much better. Keeps the guitar in its valve amp warmth lane without letting those resonances steal the show.

Craving a touch more clarity and presence, so I cranked up the curve at 810 Hertz by about 2.5 dB, playing it cool with a moderate Q of 3.3. Now, the internet's buzzing with opinions about cutting these frequencies for metal guitars, claiming it sounds like a budget stereo. But remember what I said about cheat sheets and so-called 'experts'? Bingo! Toss those notions aside and trust your ears. Personally, I'm vibing with this little boost—it's the secret sauce that makes the lead guitar pop against the rhythm, and that's what it's all about.

Caught a bit of a bump in the spectrum around 3 kHz—decided to investigate by soloing that frequency range, and it was a bit too harsh for my liking. Took the scissors to it with a cut, but felt like it was robbing the guitar of its openness and air. Balanced the scales by throwing in a high shelf at 4.7 kHz, and voila, that's the first draft. Digging the vibes from this pretty cool equalization curve, and our lead guitar is singing sweet sounds.

EQ curve of the lead guitar

I'm crossing my fingers that you gave it a spin yourself and didn't just mimic the parameters I tossed your way in this chapter. And hey, no stress if your curve looks like it's got a different groove than mine. There's no gospel truth or right-and-wrong in the sound game—it's all about the engineer's flavor, man.

Supporting the Transients

Similar to the rhythm guitar, our lead guitar doesn't flaunt a vast dynamic range. However, this time around, we're not looking to kick things up too many notches. Our mission here is to offer some tender and understated backing to the scarcely-there transients of the lead void.

To weave this magic, we're turning to the trusty compressor, taking the LeadGuitar bus under its wing.

While the masses might think a compressor's only gig is squashing those loud peaks, this tool's got more tricks up its sleeve. Crank up that attack rate, and suddenly, we're in the business of delicately elevating those transients. Ready for some action? Throw on a Pro-C 2 compressor from FabFilter onto our LeadGuitar bus, and let's dive in:

  • Set the LeadDI L channel as the source for the side chain. Make sure the pre-fader option of the send is active.
  • Opt for the opto compression type. Opto compressors are renowned for their unhurried vibe, and that's the secret sauce we're after.
  • Flip the switch for the external side chain in the Pro-C 2 side chain settings.
  • To weed out the low-frequency interference in the side chain source, slap on a low cut at 125 Hertz.
  • Since we're not keen on t

Side chain parameters of the lead guitar's compressor

Let’s go on:

  • Crank down the threshold until you witness the compressor flexing its muscles, delivering a gentle gain reduction around -2 to -3 dB.
  • Start turning up the attack rate until those transients are punching through with some extra oomph.
  • Given the rapid notes from the rhythm guitar, let's ease off on the release rate. Find your sweet spot, but steer clear of distortion or that unwanted pumping effect.
  • Toss the Oversampling to 2x for that extra sonic finesse.
  • Lastly, fine-tune the makeup gain to ensure the lead guitar's volume stands tall, just like before. Now, let the compressor weave its subtle magic.

Compressor settings for the lead guitar

Remember, the golden rule for compressor settings (and all other settings, for that matter): resist the urge to copy blindly. Walk through the steps I'm laying out, trust your ears, and aim for the endgame of mixing a song that you genuinely think sounds fantastic. It's not about replicating my fader positions; it's about crafting a mix that feels right to you.

Big shoutout to the experimentation squad! Dive deep into the settings of those plugins. For starters, see what happens when you flip the lookahead switch—sometimes, it's the game-changer. And don't sleep on the knee parameter; tweaking how hard that compressor curve bends can open up a whole new sonic playground. The beauty's in the details, my friend, so go ahead and explore.

Word of wisdom time: Stick to your guns, my friend! No need to drown yourself in a sea of plugins. While it's true that each compressor brings its own flavor, having a fleet of 10 compressors won't save the day if you're fumbling with the setup. Beware of those 'magic' plugins promising miracles; often, it's the basics that reign supreme—compression, equalization, saturation, you know the drill.

Getting onto a stage

Time for the final stretch in our lead guitar processing journey: the depth offset.

Following in the footsteps of our rhythm guitar, we've set up those effect channels. Now, let's whisk our lead guitar away to the reverb realm and let it soak in the magic. Instant upgrade—it's like the guitar found its room to breathe. When it comes to lead guitars, I'm a bit more generous with the send level, letting it ride a touch higher than the rhythm send level. Let the reverb vibes elevate that lead guitar goodness.

Dabbled with the room delay, but with the reverb taking center stage (send level at -5.8 dB), it wasn't shaking up the game much. Time for a fresh move—let's craft a brand-new effect channel. We're gunning for a subtly ducked echo, and we'll christen it 'GuitarReflection.

Toss in the Timeless 3 plugin from FabFilter once more, and this time, cherry-pick the Medium/General - The Triplets preset. It's a sweet triplet stereo delay. Don't fuss with the send level; let it chill at the default -6 dB, and savor the lead guitar in solo mode.

Whoa, it's throwing a bit too much chaos into the mix, right? That's why we're gunning for a ducked delay vibe. In the ducking game, the delay takes a back seat when the guitar is in action, only revealing its full glory during the guitar's intermissions. Let's finesse that delay to play nice with our lead guitar.

As you're checking out the preset parameters, keep an eye out for the 'Ducking' display. Crank that dial up until the delay takes a backseat when the guitar is riffing away. But when it's time for a breather, like right before the interlude kicks in, let that delay step into the spotlight, revealing its full glamour.

Since we're shooting the lead guitar down two different effect channels, it's coming in a bit hot. But hey, I'm betting you've got the lowdown on taming that beast using the LeadGuitar bus fader, right?

Echo delay for the lead guitar

So, that was the breeze, right? Our plugin had that sweet ducking functionality built-in. But let's keep it real—most plugins won't be throwing that party. Now, when we dive into vocals, I'm gonna drop some knowledge on you about an alternative route for bringing in the ducking magic on an effect channel.

A Screaming Solo Guitar

We've got one guitar left in our recording arsenal: the solo guitar, making a brief twenty-second appearance as an honorary guest in our song. Even though it's leaving the party early, let's add an extra touch of brilliance to make it shine during the solo section.

Every solo instrument holds a unique place in the mix. It's there to grab the spotlight, not necessarily adhering to the usual rules for that instrument. It's all about standing out. That's why our approach to processing will be a bit more edgy and distinctive compared to how we handle our lead and rhythm guitars.

EQing the Solo Guitar

The initial weapon we unleash on the Solo Guitar bus is our trusty FabFilter Pro-Q 3. As per tradition, we incorporate the essential low-cut and high-cut filters, positioned quite generously at the low and high ends. Given the paramount significance of the solo guitar, I aim to preserve as much of its signal as possible. After experimenting, I settled on a low-cut filter at 65 Hertz and a high-cut filter at 14 kHz, both sculpted with a sharp 24 dB per octave slope.

This solo guitar isn't your typical high-fretboard shredding; it ventures into the lower strings as well. However, those lower strings bring about some resonances in the low midrange, around 125 Hertz. To tackle this, I position a broader bell with a Q of 1.5 at that frequency and dial down the signal by -2.5 dB. This adjustment effectively addresses the resonances without compromising the guitar's overall body.

To accentuate the fast high tones in the latter part of the solo, I give a 2.3 dB boost to the upper midrange at 1 kHz, employing a wide bell curve with a Q of 1.2. Of course, I'm all about providing our guitar with ample air and openness. Achieving this involves a high shelf at 4.1 kHz, cranked up by around +3 dB. To maintain a balance and prevent the guitar from becoming too aggressive and bitey, I carefully adjust the Q of the high shelf. This ensures that the frequencies around 2-3 kHz remain relatively untouched, hovering close to their original 0 dB levels.

EQ curve for the solo guitar

When fine-tuning the EQ settings, it's crucial, particularly for the solo guitar, to do so in the context of the entire mix. Our goal isn't just a guitar that sounds fantastic in isolation; we aim for a guitar that shines when blended with the lead and rhythm counterparts, standing out seamlessly within the overall mix.

Bringing the Solo Guitar to the Front

To truly emphasize the solo guitar and have it take on its intended role, we aim to level out the waveform peaks and elevate the quieter segments of the solo. Enter the classic application of a compressor, perfectly suited for this task.

As is my custom, I opt for the FabFilter Pro-C 2 and introduce it to the Solo Guitar bus.

Compression settings for the solo guitar

There's no secret sauce in the settings. Once more, I encourage you not to simply copy but to craft your own settings by following my steps and tuning in attentively:

  • Opt for the Clean style on the Pro-C 2 to achieve a pristine, non-distorted compression.
  • Experiment with the threshold until you observe the compressor actively reducing the gain by approximately 3-4 dB.
  • To preserve the transients, the distinct sound of the pick striking the strings, consider slightly increasing the attack rate.
  • Given the rapid string picking, keep the release time relatively short. The compressor should recover swiftly before the next string is struck.
  • Fine-tune the makeup gain to ensure a perceived volume that matches the level before compression.

Pushing the Solo Harder with Saturation

As we tune into the solo guitar within the mix, it now assumes a more prominent role, yet there's still a hint of it sounding somewhat subdued.

Absolutely, we want that solo guitar right smack in the center of the stereo field because, let's be real, it's the star of the show. But we're not stopping there; we're aiming to make it larger-than-life, seriously stand out. Ordinarily, we'd jump straight into crafting the sound's depth with reverb and delays. However, before taking that route, let's ponder another method that's perfect for beefing up a sound: saturation.

Lucky for us, the FabFilter Mixing and Mastering bundle comes equipped with a nifty tool called Saturn 2. It's a multiband saturator that's all about dishing out a slew of overtones, giving your tracks that extra oomph to make them stand out and sound not just bigger, but warmer too.

Time to spice things up—let's slap a Saturn 2 instance on our SoloGuitar bus and define three bands like the bosses we are. Drop a divider at 400 Hertz, another one at 2 kHz, and let the sonic magic unfold.

Saturn 2 with three defined bands

Zeroing in on the sweet spot—choose that middle band. It's crucial, especially when you're on a mission to inject some serious power into a meek guitar. I typically dial in the saturation while rocking the solo mode of the bus I'm tinkering with. Those subtle tweaks can be a bit elusive in the mix's grand scheme. Yet, to keep it real, I'm also keeping tabs on the overall vibe by unleashing the other instruments, one step at a time.

  • First off, hit up that saturation style selector. Ditch the default Warm Tape vibe and go straight for the Warm Tube when you're dealing with guitars—why? Because, you know, … guitars and tubes and such things, right? 😉
  • Give the Drive a little boost until that solo starts feeling beefier and fuller, like it's stepping up to the plate.
  • Feeling fancy? Crank up a bit more compression on this band by nudging the Dynamics Control knob a tad to the right.
  • Once you've worked your magic, use the Level knob to lock in the same perceived volume for the guitar as it had pre-saturation.
  • Now, throw the solo guitar into the mix and vibe-check. Maybe fine-tune your settings with another round of tweaking those controls we just laid out. Let the sonic puzzle come together. 🎸

Saturation setting for the mid band

For sure, when it comes to the lower band, hands-off is the move. Messing with it would just stir up more mud in our guitars when the saturation cranks up. Let that low end do its thing, no need to muddy the waters.

On the flip side, the upper band can be a game-changer if your guitar's rocking a dull vibe, lacking that brilliance we crave. In those situations, don't be shy—give that band a solid poke. I'm talking heavy hitters. Crank up the drive to a solid 80 percent, and while you're at it, drop the level by -3 dB to keep things in check. Let the brilliance shine through and make that guitar pop.

Depth Processing

Solo guitars, they're like the rockstars of the show, right? Now, while most folks immediately drift towards drowning them in reverb (not saying it's a bad move, but hear me out), let's kick it off with the basics—the signature room sound we're itching to gift our solo guitar. Because, you know, every star needs a stage, even if it's just a room.

Absolutely, we're diving in! Toss a send from the SoloGuitar bus straight into the GuitarRoom effect channel and let the experimentation begin. Personally, I'm vibing with a hefty send level of -3.8 dB. It's that sweet spot where we're getting the roomy feel without drowning the solo in mud. But, and here's the kicker, don't forget to double-check that gain fader on the solo guitar afterward. We're chasing the perfect mix, not a solo that's too loud for the party. Keep that balance, and let the good vibes roll.

To unleash some serious kick-assery on our solo, I brought in the big guns—an all-new effect channel starring Timeless 3 by FabFilter. Picked out the preset Long / General – Chorused Tape Echo, and cranked up the SoloGuitar bus send to it at the default level of -6 dB. Brace yourself for some epic vibes and let that solo soar with the power of a Chorused Tape Echo.

After fine-tuning that gain fader on the bus, we're vibing with the results. Now, about that massive wall of reverb—nah, we're skipping it this time. Sometimes, a slick delay is all you need to make the magic happen. So, we're sticking with our trusty echo delay and keeping it pure. No need to throw in other effects that might just muddy the waters. Sometimes, less is more, and we're rolling with the cool vibes of simplicity.

Putting the Guitars Together

When you solo that Guitar bus, take a moment to really listen and compare it with your reference track. If you're getting hit with a bit too much harshness, it's the perfect moment to bring in the equalizer extraordinaire. Pop that bad boy onto the main guitar bus and let the fine-tuning commence. We're sculpting the sonic landscape, and this EQ is our secret weapon. Time to smooth out those edges and find the sweet spot.

EQ cuts on the main guitar bus

I'm all eyes—lay it on me! You've got those surgical cuts at two frequencies that were causing a ruckus when you put your guitars head-to-head with the reference track. Let's call it precision sculpting; we're surgically removing the disturbances and making sure your guitars are standing tall in the mix.

  • The initial hiccup was the excessive harshness and bite. I dove into the upper echelons, soloing a node and sweeping through the frequencies until I stumbled upon the spot at 2450 Hertz that cranked up the guitars' bite. A slight trim, and voilà, it sounds way slicker.
  • As I delved into the other frequency zones, I caught wind of a peculiar vibe at 680 Hertz, giving the guitar a somewhat boxy feel. Another quick cut, and everything fell into the groove just right.

As an extra move, let's tighten up those guitars on the main guitar bus. Usually, a smooth squeeze can be achieved with a compressor and some laid-back settings. But guess what? We're taking it up a notch by throwing in some multiband compression. We're rolling with the Pro-MB multiband compressor from FabFilter, because, you know, it's got that extra swagger.

Before we dive into the compression game, let's map out the compression territories. No need to overthink it. I'm thinking three bands should do the trick for our bus compression.

We're talking about a cozy spot for the bass and lower mid, another for the midrange, and, of course, a VIP section for the high-end frequencies. Let's keep it smooth and balanced, no need to complicate the vibe.

Compression bands for the main guitar bus

I've laid out three bands for our multiband compression, but feel free to tweak these values to suit your own flavor:

  • Low-Band: 100 Hz – 500 Hz
  • Mid-Band: 500 Hz – 2000 Hz
  • High-Band: 2 kHz – 8 kHz

Tackling multiband compression can be a real challenge, especially when a bunch of frequencies is hitting your ears all at once. That's why I suggest throwing that specific band into solo mode as you work your magic. This way, you can catch all those compression nuances and make sure everything's grooving just right.

Let's kick things off with the first band, diving into the low-end:

  • For the lows, I'd recommend a subtle touch of compression, so I've dialed in a range (maximum gain reduction) of -3 dB.
  • Keep the ratio on the easygoing side—more chill than aggressive. I'd say 2:1 should do the trick, maybe 3:1.
  • Now, kick off the solo playback and nudge that threshold down to the left. Keep an eye on the curve – we want it reacting, but not constantly slamming into that -3 dB range we set earlier.
  • Once that's dialed in, have some fun with the attack and release rates. No hard and fast rules here; finding the sweet spot depends on your taste and the specific frequency band you're compressing. Just trust your instincts and play around with it.

Compression setting for the low-band

Moving on to the mid band, I'm sticking with the same approach: kick it off by choosing the range. This time, I'm going a bit broader, allowing for up to -5 dB gain reduction. Next up, delicately tweak that threshold to bring in a mellow compression vibe. With the mid band, we're looking at relatively quick attack and release rates to keep things snappy and tight. Feel it out and dial in those settings just right.

Settings for the mid band compression

Now, let's carry over that vibe to the high band. I'm aiming for a bit more compression compared to the low band but not as intense as the mid band. So, I've gone with a 3:1 ratio and nudged the threshold a tad higher. This way, the compressor dances with the high band, staying away from the edge of the range curve. It's all about finding that sweet spot to let those high frequencies shine while adding just the right touch of compression.

When you give this band a solo spin, it should feel like everything's snug and glued together, but remember, we're not here to squash the brilliance of those higher frequencies into the ground. Let them sparkle and shine while maintaining that seamless, glued vibe.

Settings for the high band compression

You're in the home stretch, my friend! Before you wrap up the guitar processing chapter, take a moment to check how your guitar bus fits into the overall mix. Compare it to your reference track and, if something feels off, don't be shy—dive back in and experiment with those multiband compressor settings. It's all about fine-tuning until your guitars not only sound killer on their own but also groove seamlessly within the entire mix.

Drum Processing Like a Pro

Processing drums can be a real head-scratcher. You've got this whole orchestra of sounds packed into one instrument, with frequencies sprawled across the entire audio spectrum. And let's not forget, the drum's tone is like a quick cameo – short and snappy – making those transients scream for some extra love. It's a wild ride, but that's what gives drums their character, right?

Drums might throw some curveballs, but you don't have to dive into the deep end of exotic plugins. Our secret sauce? The trusty FabFilter Mixing and Mastering suite. EQ, compression, a dash of saturation, and a sprinkle of room effects – reverb, baby – that's the magic combo. With just these tools, you'll transform your kid's drum kit recording into a bona fide drum slayer. Keep it simple, keep it killer.

Kick that Bass

Let's kick it off with the bass drum. No need to complicate things just yet – we're diving into the basic audio tracks, not the buses. So, grab that equalizer and let's give our kick some sonic swagger.

When you solo that kick bass and keep an eye on the spectrum meter we tossed onto the mix bus, you'll spot a gang of boosts hanging out between 35 and 60 Hertz. Looks killer for a bass drum, right? But here's the twist – loads of gadgets, like cell phones, struggle with those deep vibes. That's why I roll with my "kick" a bit higher, cruising around 70 to 80 Hertz. Translation: I dial in a beefy boost at 80 Hertz, rocking a Q of 5 for that sharp edge, and crank the gain up to +6 dB. Let that kick cut through the noise, my friend.

Now, let's talk about that sneaky rumble lurking in the low-end – the kind no one really hears, but it's there, playing tricks on your mix. Slicing too high is risky business, but fear not! Drop a steep low-cut filter at 25 Hertz with a slope of 24 dB per octave, and you'll be kicking that rumble to the curb without breaking a sweat. Clean and mean, my friend.

As we ascend the frequency ladder, we hit the sweet spot – the mid-range, where energy likes to throw a party. The low mids, usually the bass's hangout, tend to get a bit rowdy. Time for some surgical cuts. Best to do this dance while vibing with the complete mix, feeling the groove of that bass drum in the larger scheme of things. I went with three sharp cuts instead of taming the whole lower mid-range. Check out the snapshot later, and you'll see the magic in action. Let's sculpt that sound with precision.

Nailing down those frequencies was the tricky part of our equalizer adventure. But some things are crystal clear – anything above 5 kHz is like extra baggage for our bass drum. We're not in the market for air or brilliance here, so let's slap on a high-cut at 7 kHz with a chill slope of 12 dB per octave.

Now, to give our drum some swagger and make it stand out, dial in a boost at 2-4 kHz. Word of advice: don't go overboard cranking up this knob, unless you're aiming for that unmistakable (but kind of artificial) basketball punch. Keep it real, don't overdo it, and let that drum speak with authority.

EQ curve for the bass drum

Now that our EQ game is on point, it's time to talk transients. Forget about gimmicks like transient sculptors – a solid compressor is all you need to work that magic.

Toss a Pro-C 2 compressor from FabFilter onto the BassDrum channel and opt for Punch as the compression type. That's the flavor we're aiming for to beef up our kick drum.

Since we're all about letting those transients shine, crank up the attack rate a bit. This gives the compressor some breathing room, taking its sweet time before slamming down the full gain reduction. And that's just the right amount of time to let those transients break free and do their thing.

Following that, dial down the threshold, targeting a gain reduction of around -5 dB (or go with your vibe). As for the release rate, it's somewhat tied to the pace of your bass drum. I'd typically keep it on the faster side, but not too snappy—unless, of course, you're rocking some lightning-fast double bass rhythms (which, hey, not in our song).

Compression settings for the bass drum

Once you've dialed in the make-up gain to maintain that same in-your-face volume pre-compression, consider the mission accomplished on that front. Now, let's take our kick drum for a spin and see if we can inject some extra oomph with a cheeky saturator.

I'm rolling with the Saturn 2 saturator from FabFilter, splitting the spectrum right down the middle at 500 Hertz. That way, we've got our low-end thump in one corner and the highs doing their dance in the other.

For the low-end groove, I'm opting for a delicate touch of saturation with the "Subtle Saturation" setting. Don't be fooled by the name, though—I'm pushing that drive knob up to a bold 90 percent for just the right amount of warmth. Oh, and notice how I've dialed back the dynamics a tad? That's my secret sauce for giving those transients an extra nudge into the spotlight.

Saturation paramters on the low band

Now, when it comes to the high-end spectacle, I'm letting it loose with the "Gentle Saturation" type—these frequencies can handle the heat without breaking a sweat. Cranked up that drive to a spicy 75 percent for some sizzle. And here's the twist: I dialed down the dynamics a smidge, giving that kick a gentle push to really make it pop.

Saturation parameters on the high band

Before we dive deeper, let's give the fader on our BassDrum bus a quick once-over. How's it vibing with the rest of the mix? Can you feel its groove within the context? Is it throwing too much weight around? Tweak that fader until it hits your sweet spot, then dial in some room reverb for that extra flavor.

Time to make things interesting – whip up a fresh effect channel and give it the title "DrumRoom." Drop in the Pro-R 2 and take your pick from the presets or craft your personal masterpiece. If you're riding the preset wave, I'm throwing my hat in for the "Small/Drum Studio" vibe. It's a slick, compact reverb space with a mandatory low-cut filter already in the mix.

Reverb for our drums

Hook up a send from your BassDrum channel straight to the freshly minted effect channel, then dial in the send level until it's hitting just right. Adjust the flow until that DrumRoom magic blends seamlessly with your BassDrum groove.

When dealing with the bass drum, subtlety is the name of the game. Opt for a low send level – just enough to catch a glimpse of that reverb charm when you solo the BassDrum bus. However, the real magic happens when it's so subtle in the mix that it's like a secret handshake rather than stealing the spotlight.

Shaping the Snare Drum Rhythm

With the bass drum holding down the fort, it's time to shift the spotlight to our next drum kit maestro: the snare drum. Let's give it some love and see where the rhythm takes us.

Staying true to the groove, we're keeping it consistent. Following the same playbook, let's kick things off by throwing on an EQ, complete with the must-have high and low-cut filters, for our snare drum.

No need to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty details of your typical filter frequencies—we've danced this dance a few times already. The game plan remains crystal clear: sweep away the unwanted lows and highs, keeping the essence of the instrument untouched. It's all about crafting that sweet spot without breaking a sweat.

Making moves with finesse, I executed a gentle, broad cut at 320 Hertz with a modest Q of 1.5. This move was all about creating room for the other players—bass guitar, bass drum, and the crew of guitars. But fear not, what I took from the lower spectrum, I generously returned in the upper echelons. A wide, embracing boost at 2.7 kHz (Q = 1.0) injected the snare with the brilliance and vitality it deserves, bringing it to life in the mix.

EQ setting for the snare drum

Drop these settings into the mix, and you'll catch the snare falling right into place. Take a step back, let it groove in the context of the whole ensemble, and you'll notice it carving out its own space, graciously making room for the deeper instruments to do their thing.

Now, let's dial up the punch for our snare, mirroring the moves we made with the bass drum. Set the style to "punch," throw in a touch of a lengthy attack, and a quick-release. Pull down that threshold until your snare starts flexing its punchy muscles. Ease back on the threshold just a tad, and then finesse the makeup gain until it's hitting that sweet spot. Boom, there you have it—your snare is now locked and loaded with some serious punch.

Compressor setting for the snare drum

Optional, but oh so tasteful—I've got a hunch that a dash of saturation could elevate our snare game. Introducing a Saturn 2 instance, I carved out a band from 500 Hertz to 4 kHz, the sweet spot where the punchy mid levels of the snare stand their ground.

Applied a touch of "Gentle Saturation" with a moderate drive—just enough to add that extra clarity to the snare's voice. Now, a heads-up: the other bands are on radio silence for saturation. Too much of the good stuff in those frequency ranges, and our snare risks sounding a bit too synthetic.

Saturation setting for the snare drum

The plot thickens, taking a detour from the bass drum vibes, as we gear up to sprinkle some room reverb magic onto our snare. This is where things get intriguing and take on a different flavor.

Let's kick off the snare reverb rendezvous by sending it straight to our DrumRoom effect channel. But hey, let's not drown it—just a hint of that roomy goodness. I dialed in a send level of -12.5 dB, finding that sweet spot where the snare gets a taste of the room without losing its punchy identity.

Personally, I'm vibing on that 80s and 90s wavelength. In the modern mix landscape, things can get a bit arid, but hey, I'm all about embracing that recognizable reverb on the snare drums. Totally optional, but if we're going to do it, let's make it scream "vintage cool."

Introduce a fresh effect channel, dub it "SnareReverb." Toss in a Pro-R 2 instance, and let's go big—reach for a preset that screams "large and in charge." Personally, I'm feeling the vibes of "Large/Concert Hall LA" (because, let's be real, who doesn't love Los Angeles?). Now, give that snare a backstage pass to the SnareReverb channel, but keep it low-key—dial down the send level until it's weaving seamlessly into the mix, adding that touch of magic without stealing the show.

Drum Roll for the Toms, Please!

Tom drums usually pack a ton of energy in the low end. This goes for almost all instruments: it might sound awesome when you're jamming with just the toms, but in the grand mix scheme, it's a bit too intense. That's why our first move is to slap on some high- and low-cut filters for the toms, followed by a mission to kick out that overpowering, booming low-end vibe.

To compensate the cuts I made, I set a steeper boost at 350 Hertz to give back some body to the toms and another bost at 3 kHz to emphasize the kick signal.

EQ for the toms

Just like we do with the rest of the drum kit, we're aiming to amp up the toms' punch factor—but we're not going all-in like we do with the bass drum and snare. This time, we dial in a moderately slow attack rate, not as sluggish as the bass drum, though. I'm targeting around 40 ms. And, of course, the release rate stays on the quicker side.

When you start dialing down the threshold, keep an eye out for that subtle punch—nothing too in-your-face, but enough to make its presence known. I've found my groove with the following settings, but remember, it's all about discovering your own sweet spots:

Compressor settings for the toms

What I went for is throwing in a hard knee in the settings. I just sensed it would inject that distinctive punch I'm craving for the toms.

Finally, I send an appropriate level of the toms to the DrumRoom effects channel to give them a little roomy touch. Not to much. You should more orient at the bass drum instead of the snare.

Next Stop: the HiHat

When we throw an EQ onto the HiHat channel and hit play, you'll notice a surge of energy above 4 kHz—totally expected for a HiHat, and we don't want to mess with its natural vibe. To keep things chill, we slap on a high-frequent hi-cut at 16 kHz with a steep slope of 24 dB per octave. Adding a bit more finesse, we also drop in a high shelf at 6 kHz with a gentle -2 dB gain reduction.

But let's talk low-end for a sec—do HiHats really need it? Nah, not really. That's why many engineers throw in a low-cut, cranked up to a respectable 1 kHz and beyond. Give it a whirl yourself. Toss in that high-pass filter and take a listen. Still sounding sweet?

No way, man! We don't want to strip the HiHat of its entire body. What we're pulling off is dialing back the low-cut frequency until the body's back, but we're still giving those bass sounds the boot. For me, it hits the sweet spot around 350 Hertz. Sure, it might be a stretch from what some cheat sheets suggest, but you know what? I'm still riding the groove just fine with it.

EQ curve for the HiHat

Now, let's seal the deal and shoot our HiHat over to the DrumRoom effect channel. It's a breeze to dial in the send level, finding that sweet spot that showers the HiHat with a touch of room reverb without drowning it in the mess, right?

When it comes to the compressor, I'm a tad hesitant with HiHats. I often find myself pondering, what's the real deal with it? I'm not looking to beef up the HiHat's punch, and I'm not in the business of smoothing out those sharp transients. But hey, that's just my take when I'm in mix mode. If you're feeling it, toss in a subtle Optio-Compressor. Go for a medium attack and release, with a gentle gain reduction of around -3 dB. See if that adds the flavor you're after.

Sparkling Splashes for our Song

When you tune into the Overheads channel, it might catch you off guard—cymbals only, no bleeding from the other drums. Yup, that's the hand we're dealt, and we gotta roll with it. We've got the ambience track for the drum bleedings on the Overheads, but for now, let's cook up some goodness for our Overheads channel.

I don't want you yawning over there, so go ahead and give it a whirl yourself. Recall the magic we worked with the hi-hats. No need to copy the settings verbatim, but rock the same vibe, you know?

  • Slap on an EQ, flex those hi- and low-cut muscles.
  • Scan for any other frequencies itching for a boost or a chill pill.
  • Lay down some gentle compression to iron out those feisty cymbal attacks.

Once you've worked your magic, glide your eyes over to that Overheads channel fader. Give it the finesse it needs to seamlessly groove into the mix.

Giving it More Natural Room

Do you recall our Ambience channel with the room-miked drum set? This will crank up our natural room vibe way better than any reverb could pull off.

We don’t want it to overrun our drum channels but to give subtle support. So, the first thing we will do is to cut some frequencies that carry lots of energy. That is the low end. And when we are already talking about filters, let’s also apply a high cut.

Low- and high-cut for the Ambience channel

I slam those room-miked drums with a hefty dose of compression—so much that it hits a point where it's almost freakishly unnatural.

Hard compression for the Ambience drum channel

Be aware: no need for a send to any reverb channel. The Ambience channel is already loaded with enough room information thanks to those room mics in action.

With this weapon at our disposal, let's solo the Drumset bus and reintegrate the Ambience track into the mix. The heavier you mix, the roomier it gets. Just tread carefully; we don't want the Ambience drums overpowering the entire drum bus.

The last piece of the puzzle is tweaking the Drumset channel fader to fit seamlessly into the overall mix. Since we've remixed the Ambience channel, it might come off too quiet or too loud. Simply fine-tune that Drumset fader to dial in the perfect balance.

Super-Glue for our Drum Bus

The drum set is typically a key player in any song, and it should stand tall like a rock. In our approach, we dialed in each individual piece of the kit, which resulted in a sound that's a tad more laid-back.

We're spicing things up by throwing some extra sauce on our drums. Recall how we sent all the cymbals to the Cymbals bus, other parts to the BasicDrums bus, and both of those bad boys to the Drumset bus. That's the game plan!

To amp up the cohesion, we slapped a compressor on both the BasicDrums and Cymbals buses. There's this killer compression type in the Pro-C 2, aptly named 'bus.' It's like the secret sauce for adding some grip and seamlessly gluing those bus parts together.

Settings the the BasicDrums bus compressor

I'm rolling with a low threshold, a chill attack, and release rate, scoring a sweet gain reduction of about -10 dB. This compressor type keeps things on the down-low, and that's just the vibe we want for the BasicDrums. Feel free to toss in similar settings for the Cymbals bus—it's all about keeping it smooth and understated.

Now, let's shift our gaze to the Drumset bus. It's whispering about a slight deficiency in certain frequencies. Time to pull out our Pro-Q 3 from the arsenal of sonic weapons and drop it right into the Drumset bus.

  • Right around 200 Hertz, there's a bit of resonance that doesn't vibe well with the overall mix. I threw in a broad cut to address it, but I played it cool. Gotta be cautious not to let those crucial body frequencies from the bass, toms, and snare disappear into the sonic abyss.
  • Next up on the radar was the need for more presence. Knowing that presence often hangs out above 1 kHz, I dialed in a broad boost at 1.6 kHz, cranking the gain up to 2.8 for that extra punch.
  • Now, to sprinkle in a bit of that three-dimensional magic on the drum bus, here's a nifty trick: toss in a high shelf at 1 kHz and route it to a side processing node. Watch as it boosts those higher frequencies on the sides of the spectrum, leaving the middle untouched for that spacious vibe.
  • Of course, we're not inviting the low-end to the side party. I threw in a low shelf at 500 Hertz and tagged it as a side processing node as well. This way, we're keeping that low-end locked in the center, maintaining that solid foundation.

EQ processing on the drum bus

Now, when you groove with the drum bus in the mix, you'll notice it's got this sparkling vibe up top without letting too much low-end energy run wild in the side channel. Sweet, right? But, we're not done yet. Time to add that extra layer of glue to tie it all together.

Time to use a multiband compression on that bus.

Getting surgical with it, I sliced the frequency spectrum into three bands. The lower realm stretches from 50 to 400 Hertz, the midrange holds steady from 400 Hertz to 4 kHz, and the upper echelon claims its space from 4 to 12 kHz.

For the low band, I'm dialing in a short attack rate and setting a fairly low threshold, cranking up the compression to give it that tight grip. Why? Well, I sensed the bass of the bass drum was hitting a bit too hard, and we're here to keep it in check.

Compression settings for the low band of the drum bus

Navigating the middle band with caution, I'm holding back a bit on the compression. Too much squeeze here could drain the power from our bus. Limited the compression range to -3 dB, went for a longer attack and release rate, and nudged the threshold a bit higher. No need for constant compression hitting the range limit—it's all about finesse.

Compression settings for the middle band of the drum bus

The higher band is much more straighforward and looks more like the lower band. Short attack and release with a fairly high compression.

Multiband compression of the drum bus

And there you have it. When you vibe with the drum bus in the mix, you'll sense it's all glued together, tighter and smoother than ever before.

In the grand finale, we're sending the Drumset bus back to the DrumRoom effect channel for that extra splash of roomy goodness. The send level is a delicate dance, so trust your ears and tune in closely as the complete mix unfolds.

Getting your Hands Dirty with the Killer Bass

Alright, let's dial in that low-end clarity and craft a bass track that's downright killer. At the moment, things are a bit muddy down there. Time to pinpoint the source of the mud: our friend, the bass guitar.

Handling the Amped Channel

We've got two channels for the bass guitar—one with the miked amp and the other as a DI track. First up, let's check out the wet channel. It's crystal clear we need an EQ here, and it's a no-brainer that we drop in the essential low-cut and high-cut filters.

On top of that, there's a zone where we don't need any extra presence—in the midrange, around 500 Hertz. When you isolate this frequency, it's like a strange Mickey Mouse zone that's a total misfit for a bass guitar. Time for a wide cut here. This is crucial since we want to carve out room for the other players in this frequency block: vocals and guitars.

Even though it's a bass guitar, we're craving that satisfying click when the player plucks a string. That magic happens up in the higher frequencies, roughly around 2 kHz. So, we're tossing in a boost with a smooth Q of 2.8 to let that click shine through.

EQ for the amped bass guitar

That should wrap up our EQ adventures. I don't want to mess with the vibe the bass player dialed in on the amp settings—it's sounding pretty sweet. But what's noticeably absent is that punch. Enter the compressor, once again taking center stage.

To get a realy punch, I use a hard knee and a higher ratio of 6:1. And shure, I want to let same transients and attack come through, so I dial in an attack rate where this is still possible (around 20 ms). Then I add plenty of compression with the threshold, and here we are. Much more punch.

Compression for the amped bass guitar

To give our bass channel an extra kick, let's toss in a Saturn 2 saturator. Set the type to "Heavy Saturation" and pick a medium drive setting of 30 percent. That should add some serious oomph to the mix.

Heavy saturation for the amped bass guitar

type to transients, and hooked it up to the Drive knob. What's the result? An additional surge of saturation precisely timed with the bass transients, delivering that extra punch we crave.

Handling the DI Channel

You might wonder, with the bass guitar already in the mix, why bother with the DI channel?

Here's the deal: the DI channel brings a different flavor to the table. While the miked amp captures the raw, gritty essence, the DI track provides a clean, direct signal. Blend them right, and you get the best of both worlds—a punchy, defined bassline with the rich character of the amp and the pristine clarity of the DI. It's all about sculpting that sonic landscape.

Starting off with the DI track, our mission is to lay down a solid bass groove. I throw an equalizer on the DI channel, opting for a slight boost at 90 Hertz. Gotta tread lightly here; we don't want to overshadow the bass drum, but we'll finesse those details down the road.

Since the DI track is on support duty, we can ease off on the mid-range and upper-mid-range. Let's throw on a high shelf and dial it down to 1 kHz, gracefully reducing the mid-range and high-end elements by -5 dB. This keeps the focus on the wet track, where we've already got those frequencies covered.

EQ settings for the DI bass

Those trusty high-cut and low-cut filters are like old friends in the audio world. No need to belabor the point—we know they're the unsung heroes cleaning up our sound and keeping things tight. We'll keep riding that wave without the need for constant reminders.

For the compressor on the DI channel I like to stay on the extremer sides. Using a hard knee with a high ration and a moderate attack rate, gives me plenty of compression. That’s okay, since we will use the DI track as a supprt track that is just blended in.

Compressor settings for the DI channel

Blending our Bass Guitars

Just like the mystique of a fine bourbon lies in the artful blend of various whiskies, our Bass bus follows suit.

It's all about that meticulous fusion—marrying the distinct tones from our miked amp and DI track. Just as a master distiller crafts the perfect blend, we're sculpting a bass blend that's smooth, flavorful, and undeniably kick-ass. Cheers to sonic craftsmanship!

What are we waiting for, indeed? Let's dive in. Solo mode for the Bass bus, pull that DI bass channel fader down to negative infinity, then gradually crank it up until you feel that sweet blend hitting you square in the stomach and face simultaneously.

Crafting the bass blend

Ending up with the DI track beneath the amped one? That was the game plan all along. It's not just about the layers; it's about the intentional arrangement, and we've nailed it. The amped track takes the lead, and the DI track plays its supporting role, creating a bassline symphony that's precisely as intended from the get-go.

For that extra punch, let's introduce another Pro-C 2 compressor to the Bass bus. Opt for the punch style, choose a moderate attack—no need to squeeze the life out of this bus, just a gentle compression. Aim for a gain reduction hovering around -2 dB, keeping it subtle yet effective. We're sculpting that punch without going overboard.

Compressor settings for the Bass bus

Now, as we immerse ourselves in the entire mix, it's time to fine-tune the Bass bus fader for that perfect bass level. In my ears, a slight adjustment downwards of just over -1 dB felt just right. It's the delicate dance of finding the sweet spot where the bass sits snugly in the mix without overpowering the ensemble.

You've got a keen ear—it's that missing room vibe for the bass. While we've given the drums and guitar a taste of reverb to breathe life into the mix, the bass is yearning for that same atmospheric touch. Let's dial in just the right amount of reverb to infuse some space into the bass, ensuring it blends seamlessly and adds that essential dimension to the overall sound.

No need for a cathedral-sized reverb with echoes bouncing off the Grand Canyon walls. We're aiming for something more subtle—a gentle room reverb that wraps around the bass, creating a natural sense of space without overwhelming it. Think of it like the cozy ambiance of a room, just enough to let the bass breathe and groove within the mix.

I've thrown a Pro-R reverb onto the bass bus and I'm steering clear of an effect channel for now. Why? Well, we're rolling with this slick reverb only once in the mix.

You've got the option to craft your own ambient room reverb, or you can take the easy route and explore the presets. Personally, I'm vibing with the "Ambience/Fat Ambience" preset for my Bass bus. Let's hear how that kicks in.

Ambient reverb for the Bass bus

Given that we're skipping the parallel processing route via an effect channel, it's crucial to ease up on that Mix knob. Start at zero, then gradually dial up the mix level until you hit that sweet spot of ambience you're yearning for.

Getting the Vocal Bus into Tune

If you're a singer, you can take a deep breath. Here comes the chapter tailored just for you. We're diving into vocals and giving them the treatment they truly deserve.

In general, vocals are not easy to mix, because

  • Its easier to get outta tune than with an instrument.
  • Vocals often boast a wide dynamic range, making it challenging to stay audible throughout every part of a song.
  • Our brains are wired for vocals. If something sounds too unnatural, our brain immediately protests.

Considering all of this, it's evident that we require a truly special and highly precise vocal treatment.

Since the steps for vocal processing are (almost) identical for both the lead and side vocals, I'll address them together in each chapter. This approach means we won't mix the lead vocals first and then add the side vocals; instead, we'll tackle both simultaneously.

An Iron Gate for our Breathes

More often than not, you're gonna catch some funky noise on your vocal recordings. It could be anything – the rhythmic tap of your feet, a rogue airplane doing laps over your crib, but chances are, it's just your singer doing some heavy-duty breathing.

Two vocal lines connected by heavy breathing

The breaths lurking in that red zone might not seem too shabby at first glance or even when you give 'em a listen. But trust me, after a couple of compression rounds, you could practically pitch this vocal snippet to some Death Metal bands as primo background vocals.

There are a couple of ways to kick that noise to the curb. Option one: the old-school method of editing your vocals and surgically cutting it out. But, let's be real, depending on how many tracks you're juggling, it can turn into an all-day affair. That's why I'm all about option two: letting the gate do its thing.

Begin by spotting that pesky noise on your track. Ideally, it's the rowdiest sound the track's got. In our demo jam, you'll catch it hanging out on the 'LeadVoc Chorus' track, just before we hit the 20-bar mark.

Now drop a Pro-G into that track. You've glimpsed this move when we were beefing up the guitars, but this time, we're not looking to expand. It's all about slamming that gate shut on that noise.

Typically, you'll have some pretty solid experiences rocking the 'Focused Vocals' preset. Keep an ear out for those sneaky breaths sneaking into your track—give it a spin on repeat. Dial that threshold down until your vocals are crystal clear, cruising without a hitch, while those breaths and other noises take a back seat.

A gate for our lead vocals

Yet, things might get a bit tricky if your noise levels are cranked up or your vocals are playing the quiet game. Either those subtle vocal moments get the squeeze, or the noise doesn't quite get the hint. If that's the jam, you can tinker with the attack and release rates, but let's be real—if all else falls flat, there's only one move left: getting hands-on and editing those vocals manually.

Ungated and gated vocals in comparrison

Check out the snapshot above – this trick vibes pretty smoothly with our track.

But throwing the gate exclusively on the lad vocals during the chorus? Not exactly a game-changer. Recall, our plan was to run all vocal tracks through the same tool, just tweaking those parameters a bit.

Alright, your mission, should you choose to accept it: Gate duty for all the other vocal tracks. Enjoy the ride!

Getting the Tune Right

The next step in my vocal processing journey is totally up to you—it's as optional as choosing your favorite guitar riff. This step revolves around fine-tuning the vocal pitch, and lucky for us, Studio ONE brings the heat with its killer tool, "Melodyne Essentials." Just give that event a cool right-click, and voila! You can dive into the magic of Melodyne, moving those slightly off-key notes to where they belong, like a musical puzzle falling into place.

Lead vocals in the Melodyne editor view

As I mentioned, this step is totally up to you—it's like the optional solo in a jam session. There are plenty of times when I choose to keep the vocals "untuned," letting the raw, natural vibes of the performance shine through. It's all about capturing that authentic feel and letting the song breathe with its own unique flavor.

EQing the Vocals

Let's kick those nasty frequencies out of our vocals that nobody needs. No doubt, we're talking about the sub-bass and the super-high-end frequencies. So, we gotta throw on our must-have low-cut and high-cut filters.

I'm picking up some mud around the 200 Hertz zone in the lead vocals, and I've gone ahead and trimmed that down a bit. Don't get me wrong; that frequency adds some warmth to our voice, and wiping it out completely would be a disaster. But in this case, it was just a tad too much.

There's another tricky frequency hanging around 510 Hertz that gives the vocals a somewhat boxy vibe. Once again, I've applied a subtle cut in this area, and now things are sounding way better.

The party of bad frequencies doesn't seem to end; now we've got another troublemaker at 870 Hertz, causing a bit of a nasal sound. Just a tiny cut there, and boom, problem solved.

To add a touch more clarity and air to the vocals, I've thrown in a wider boost at 2.5 kHz and slapped on a high-shelf filter at 7 kHz with a higher Q of 2.6. Now, we're talking crisp and clear.

EQ settings for the lead vocals

I've dropped an instance of this EQ on both the LeadVoc Verse and the LeadVoc Chorus channels. It might seem a bit overhead, considering I could have thrown it on the LeadVocals bus. However, I wouldn't roll like that with a compressor because the verse and chorus channels are pumping out quite different levels into that bus. So, it's a must to have those compressors sitting tight on the individual channels for verse and chorus. And since I'm all about having my EQ before the compressor, there's no other move than slapping that EQ onto the channels instead of the bus.

I'm pulling the same move on the SideVoc channels, so now we've got four extra EQs in the mix. I've tweaked them a bit, slapping on a hefty low-shelf filter at 500 Hertz with a -6 dB gain reduction. It might sound like a big cut, but let's keep in mind these are the side vocals, just there to lend some support to the lead vocals in the higher realms.

De-Essing the Vocals

Before I compress the vocal channels, I really wanna get rid of all this nasty frequencies. We already EQed it, but we should having an eye on the sibilances, too. Having a De-Esser on your vocal tracks is always a good idea, so I put in some Pro-DS instances on each vocal channel.

I'm rolling with the "Male Wide Band" preset on this one, making a few tweaks to the threshold to dial in the perfect amount of sibilance attenuation. Easy peasy.

De-Esser for the lead vocals

De-essing isn't rocket science. I'm keeping it simple – no need to mess with the frequency range or spectrum. Just dial in that threshold, and you're golden. If you're dealing with a ton of sibilance, you can hit up the Split Band option. It knocks down only the affected frequency spectrum instead of the whole shebang, a solid alternative especially when you're working with a super low threshold.

First Stage of Compression

To smooth out our vocals and bring in some gain and presence, we've thrown compressors onto our vocal channel. Easy move.

For the compression type on the Pro-C 2, I'm vibing with vocals. They deliver a clean and subtle compression that's just the ticket.

I'm not all about those intense transients on my vocals—exceptions granted, like for some beatboxing vocals. So, I'm rolling with a super low attack rate and letting the release do its thing on auto-release. Smooth sailing.

I'm dialing down the threshold now, shooting for a solid compression with a gain reduction of around -6 dB. Given the vocal compression type, the GR might seem on the higher side, but it's subtle and won't scream at the listener. When we throw in some makeup gain to bring the vocals back to their pre-compression level, we're riding the smooth wave. We're on the right path.

I copy this instance of the compressor to all other vocal channels and just adapt the threshold to reach a gain reduction of -6 dB on each channel.

Stage 0 compression for the lead vocals

As seen in the picture above, I've gone with a 2x oversampling and a touch of lookahead to steer clear of any distortions. Even if your CPU is on a tight schedule, this is crucial for vocals. We definitely don't want any non-harmonic distortions sneaking in. If you're in a CPU crunch during mixing, you can ease up on these options, but make sure to activate them when you're bouncing your song!

Saturating the vocals

Let's shift our focus to the busses: the LeadVocal bus and the SideVocal bus. We're looking to add some saturation here to infuse our vocals with more warmth and a touch of grit.

Saturation on the lead vocals

For the LeadVocal bus, I'm going straightforward with a Saturn 2, rocking the "Color / Dynamic Warm Transformation" preset. It lays down just a hint of saturation, but it paints the vocals with a warmer tone reminiscent of analog recordings.

On the Side Vocals, I'm keeping it easy with the preset "Color / Saturate and Color" on the Saturn 2. Sure, you can dive into crafting your own settings, but honestly, the presets on Saturn 2 are spot-on for fulfilling the cravings of a singer.

Second Stage of Compression

The second round of compression is more about gluing together the various vocals (lead and side), not cranking up the volume. If you sense that your vocals still need more presence in the mix, you could toss in extra compressors on the LeadVocal and SideVocal buses. However, I'm not seeing an issue here, so I'm opting for a glue compressor on the main Vocal bus.

Glue compression on the main Vocal bus

As you can observe, I'm diving in with a quick 1 ms attack rate and a moderate release setting. I'm shooting for a -5 dB gain reduction, and of course, keeping our safety net activated with Oversampling and Lookahead. Locked and loaded.

Now, take a listen to the vocals in the context of the mix and tweak the main Vocal bus fader until the vocals sit just right – not too overpowering, but definitely not drowning in the mix. Your vocals should be sounding kind of dope now compared to the unprocessed ones.

Giving it Room to Breath

What's left? You got it – the depth. Even though our vocals are sounding pretty sweet, they're as dry as the Sahara dust. Let's fix that by adding a fresh effect channel labeled "VocalRoom" and dropping in two(!) Pro-R reverbs.

First things first, set up a send from the LeadVocal bus to this FX channel, and get that room reverb going in solo mode.

For the first reverb I use the preset “Ambience / Fat Ambience”. This gives a touch of sitting in a tight room. To add a more obvious room effect we dial in for the “Ambience / Slap Back Ambience” preset on the second Pro-R instance.

Combined Ambience reverbs for the vocals

Now, dial in the send level from the LeadVocal bus to the effect channel. Sound pretty cool, huh?

Let's do the same routine for the SideVocal bus now. However, while listening to the main vocal bus in solo mode, it hits me that we can crank it up a notch. How about adding a slick delay to spice up the sides a bit?

Let's spice things up a bit more. Toss in a fresh effect channel, label it VocalDelay, and slap in a FabFilter Timeless plugin. You know the drill – this tool comes packed with some awesome presets. For this ride, I'm feeling the "Medium / Vocals – Clean with Ducking" preset. The Ducking feature is a game-changer – it won't kick in while the vocals are in the spotlight, but it'll drop a sweet echo tail when they start to fade out. Cool, right?

What else to add? Nothing to the signal chains. I believe we've got it locked down. Unmute all channels and busses, then give the whole song a spin on various monitors – headphones, near-field, and main monitors with a subwoofer. Keep a notepad handy and jot down everything you notice, especially the aspects you're not digging or that could use a bit of fine-tuning.

Tweaking the song

Did you give your latest mix a spin and vibe to it? I did, and I even grabbed a piece of paper to jot down some thoughts on how we could amp up the song:

  • The bass drum is throwing a bit too much weight around compared to the rest of the drum kit.
  • The whole drum setup is coming in a bit hot during the intro, verses, and the interlude; needs a touch of finesse.
  • That lead guitar riff at the end of the intro and in the break? Let's make it pop, give it that in-your-face vibe. It's too cool to get lost in the mix.
  • Two chords in the break played by the rhythm guitar? How about we throw in a stereo sweeping effect, like a guitar train rushing from left to right?
  • The musical break in the chorus needs more "staccato" feels. Let's make it a real break, you know?
  • In the interlude, let's have the bass guitar make a bolder entrance and then fade out more dramatically than it's doing right now.
  • When the interlude kicks in, the rhythm guitar should sound more like a telephone-recorded guitar. Right now, it's a bit too boomy. Once the bass and the other guitars join, we'll dial it back to "normal."
  • The solo guitar has a bit of a squawk. Not just an EQ thing, maybe we can spice it up with a Volcano filter or some other interesting effects.
  • The chorus is awesome, but let's crank it up a notch – maybe a 1 dB lift to give it that extra oomph.
  • Cymbals are sounding a tad harsh and splashy at times. Let's consider a de-esser to smooth things out.
  • End of the song – drums getting cut off? That's a bad edit, my friend. Let's clean that up for a smoother finish.

Let's dive in and start making those sonic dreams a reality! Time to turn that checklist into a masterpiece. Let the mixing magic begin!

Attenuating the Bass Drum

A whole chapter for this? Keeping it concise and on point: tweaked the bass drum fader from -7.5 to -9.0 dB. Issue resolved. Moving on—what's the next mission?

No doubt, no joke. Sacrificing a whole chapter to this was no casual move.

When you get that vibe that an instrument is either too loud or playing the quiet game throughout the entire track, it's tempting to think that tweaking the fader of that instrument is the quick fix. However, there's a major downside to relying solely on the fader.

Checking out the routing, you'll notice that the bass drum takes the same bus ride as the snare drum and toms on the BasicDrums express. Cruising on this bus is a compressor, and this compressor comes packing a threshold, dictating the level at which it kicks into action.

Can you see the issue creeping in? When a source on this bus takes a significant volume nosedive, it brings the whole bus down with it. This can throw a wrench in the compressor's groove, preventing it from kicking in or, at the very least, cramping its compression style.

This becomes a serious hiccup when cranking up the source volume. Picture this: You're vibing with a desire to make the bass drum hit harder, let's say a solid +5 dB. You push up the BassDrum fader, unleashing a surge of energy to the bus. And guess what the compressor does? Right on the money! It kicks into overdrive, squeezing even harder. The end result? The bass drum doesn't just get louder by +5 dB; it gets tangled up in a compression maze. Particularly when riding those faders north, you run the risk of swiftly turning your entire mix into a compression catastrophe.

How to wriggle out of this jam?

Two avenues open up:

  • Option one: Boost the bus fader of the BasicDrums express or get fancy with some fader automation. Unfortunately, this won't cut it in this scenario. Why? Pushing up that bus fader means lifting the volume on the toms and snare too. And that's precisely the opposite of our grand plan. We aimed to hush the bass while keeping the snare and toms grooving at the same sweet volume.
  • Option two: Roll with the BassDrum fader, just like we did earlier, and extend your care to the whole signal chain above this channel. This includes giving some love to the BasicDrums bus, the Drumset bus, and heck, even the MixBus channel.

Taking the Drums on a Leash

Next up on our checklist: The drums are throwing a bit too much weight around in the intro, verse, and interlude. This looks like a typical field of application for bus automation.

We've already grooved with automation on a single channel. Shifting the beat to a bus isn't a whole new dance. Simply right-click on the Drumset bus fader, slide into "edit volume automation." Since this bus is living the incognito life in our track window, a fresh track for automation steps into the limelight.

Now, you've got choices – if you're feeling the hardware vibe, dance with a partner like the Presonus Faderport. But hey, if you're all about those hands-on moves, go manual. Toss in control points on the automation curve at the kickoff of the section that needs a volume dip. Hover your mouse over that sweet spot until it switches gears, and then glide up or down with pressed left mouse button like a DJ in the mix.

Part of the Drumset automomation curve

Check out the slick move I pulled – a gradient hike in the fader level as the volume climbs. It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but we're all about keeping secrets from the listener and avoiding the too-obvious vibe.

This whole automation gig? No rulebook needed. Tweak that curve to match your flavor, and you'll cook up an automation vibe like mine – or maybe something entirely off the beaten path.

Complete gain automation curve for the Drumset bus

Oh, one heads up: once you dive into the gain automation realm, the fader of that channel or bus won't be your go-to volume maestro anymore. But fear not! If you're in the mood to dial the entire curve up or down, just slide over to the beginning or end of the curve, hold that left mouse button down, and groove on the drag.

Tweaking that Lead Riff

Give an ear to the lead guitar riff strutting its stuff at bar nine. This bad boy makes frequent cameos in the song, and I'm aiming for an emphasis that's like, "Hey, right in your face!"

Before we blindly start working on that, we should have a plan. This is always a good idea while mixing. The plan for this task is:

Before we jump into the trenches, let's lay down a game plan. It's always a smart move in the mixing realm. Here's the blueprint for this mission:

  • Duplicate the LeadGit L and LeadGit R buses in their full glory, but hitch them to the MixBus instead of the LeadGuitar bus. Why the detour? We're sidestepping the heavy compression party that's rocking the guitar buses.
  • Rename the new channels to LeadRiff L and LeadRiff R and change the panning to L60 and R60.
  • Cut away all parts except the riff parts.
  • Do not forget to add a a crossfade at the beginning and end of each riff.
  • Now add a long fade in and a relative short fade out to each riff an voila. There we are.

Fade in and out for each lead riff

Time for the secret sauce to beef up that sound: Highlight all the LeadRiff L events, hit F4, and pitch them down to -20. Now, repeat the drill for all the LeadRiff R events, but this time crank up the tuning to +20. This little maneuver works wonders, creating a fatness that's a go-to move for artificially doubling vocals.

To add depth, I sent both channels to the GuitarRoom and GuitarReflection FX channels.

The final touch? Dial in those faders on the freshly minted channels. They're here to lend a hand, but let's keep it smooth and subtle. No need for it to be glaringly obvious.

Let the Guitar Train Rush by

Alright, during the break, the rhythm guitar throws down two sweet chords. Now, to make that hit like a runaway train, we're gonna sprinkle some pan automation magic. And where does the magic happen? You got it—on the RhythmGuitar bus.

But check it, once we drop that bus pan automation bomb, the direct pan knob becomes off-limits. It's all about riding that automation curve. So, before we dive in, let's make damn sure our pan setting is on point—no second-guessing allowed, no tweaks down the road.

"Got a hunch, right? The pan? Well, it's not exactly throwing the right party. And 'not correct'? Nah, that doesn't cut it. Here's the deal—I've got this slick tweak I sneak into almost all my mixes, and guess what? We've been snoozing on it until now. My bad, slipped my mind.

Alright, since we're rolling with two guitars, let's not squish 'em together like they're sharing the same chair. Picture this: two guitarists on stage, right? They ain't huddled up in the same spot. One's vibin' on the left, the other's holding it down on the right. Now, I'm not saying let's slam the rhythm and lead into opposite universes, but let's nudge 'em just a tad left and right—gotta let those strings breathe.

Panning of the guitars

Boom, there it is. Keep an ear on those guitar busses and stack 'em against the sound we were rocking earlier. Feel that? The lead and rhythm guitars are flexing a bit more individuality, spreading their wings wider. Now, let's dive into the pan automation groove for the rhythm guitar. Time to crank up that guitar train and let it zoom by like there's no tomorrow.

Alright, mouse in hand, right-click that pan knob on the RhythmGuitar bus. Slide over to 'Edit pan automation.' Boom! A fresh track, draped in pan automation curves, slides into the track window like it owns the joint.

Pan automation for the rhythm guitar

You already know how to edit that curves, because you already did it with the gain fader curve. So, just add a cool blend from right to left. Sure, we do this for each break in the song.

Giving Stakkato to the Chorus Break

Hit pause and tune into the break smack in the middle of the chorus. Like I spilled in the beginning of this chapter, I'm craving a bit more of that staccato flair here. Now, here's the rub—when you solo the rhythm guitar, it's vibing with that sweet staccato. Bass guitar? Same deal, rockin' that staccato magic. But solo the lead guitar...hmm, tricky business. That lead riff? Well, that's like a locked groove we can't mess with.

So, here's the plot twist—the one true maverick in our staccato mission is the Drumset. Guess what? While everything's taking a breather, those drums just keep on marching, no chill whatsoever. Time to drop the gain to negative infinite when the rhythm guitar takes a breather. And what's the secret sauce? You guessed it—gain automation on the drum bus. Let's dial in that rhythmic silence and let the drums follow suit.

Smooth move, we're already cozy with that automation curve on the Drumset Bus. Now, no need for the scenic route—let's dive right in. Toss in a couple of pit stops in the middle of the chorus. Two slick sections where we slam that gain down to negative infinite, syncing up with the rhythm guitar's chill moments. Let's make those drums dance to the rhythm of silence.

Adapted gain cautomation curve for the Drumset bus

In the picture above you can see the automation curve for the Drumset gain as a blue line. See the cuts which are at the same place like the rests in the pink waveform of the rhythm guitar.

More Aggressive Bass in Interlude

We'll tackle another issue with gain automation, specifically the slightly lackluster bass guitar during the interlude. Give the attack a spin around bar 51. It could use a bit more punch.

Giving the bass guitar a bigger punch in the interlude

Not much of a saga here, folks. Just scope out the gain curve on that bass guitar. Hit up bar 51, the moment the bass steps into the spotlight. I crank it up with a +4 dB boost, then ease it down gradually until it's time for that bass to strut its stuff again, syncing up with the solo.

Rhythm Guitar Telephonce Call on Interlude

As mentioned earlier, I'm all about cranking up the drama for the kickoff of the interlude. Picture this: the rhythm guitar doing its thing, but I want it to hit you like an old-school telephone recording, swooping in from the left side. Let's dial up that vibe!

Making this happen requires a two-step dance: first, shuffle that guitar over to the left side. Then, let's throw in some wild EQ action, but keep it exclusive to the first half of the interlude. It's all about creating that sweet, offbeat vibe.

Well, good news is we're already riding the automation wave with the rhythm guitar's pan. Let's surf that curve and slide the guitar a cool 80 percent to the left, but here's the twist – only for the kick-off of the interlude. Let's give that left side some love!

Shifting the rhythm guitar temporary to the left

Piece of cake, as you can check out in the snapshot above. No fancy gradients – just a straight-up entrance at 80 percent left to give that interlude a real 'breaking down' vibe. Same deal when the rest of the crew joins back in – no gradients, just a swift move, slamming it back to a cool 30 percent left. That's how we roll.

To get that telephone-style charm, I tossed another Pro-Q 3 equalizer onto the Rhythm Guitar bus. Sliced away the highs and lows—keeping it smooth and vintage. Dialing in that classic vibe, one EQ cut at a time.

Telephone EQ for the rhythm guitar

Here's the twist: the sound is grooving throughout the whole track now, but we only want that telephone magic for the first half of the interlude. Time for a savvy move – let's craft a new effect channel, naming it 'Telephone EQ,' and slide that EQ over to the FX channel. Now we're cooking with style.

Now, here's where the real magic happens: throw a send from the rhythm guitar to our slick new 'Telephone EQ' effect channel. Set that send mode to pre-fader – why, you ask? Well, buckle up. In the first half of the interlude, we're riding the gain automation wave, plummeting it to negative infinity. We want only that sweet telephone effect, no distractions from the Rhythm Guitar bus. Let the magic unfold!

Give that interlude a spin now. The Rhythm Guitar bus takes a nosedive in gain, leaving only the sweet echoes of that telephone-like effect. It might be a tad hush-hush, but fear not – just nudge up the fader on the effect channel, and we're back in the groove.

Now, new hiccups on the horizon. The effect's overstaying its welcome, playing hide and seek throughout the entire track. Not the vibe we're after, right? Enter the hero – automation. Specifically, let's automate that send level from the Rhythm Guitar bus to our effect channel. Crank it to a solid -6 dB during the first half of the interlude for that sweet spot, then drop it like it's hot to negative infinity for the rest of the journey. Automation to the rescue, keeping it tight and tailored.

With this pre-fader send shindig, the rhythm guitar is throwing its full stereo charm onto our effect channel. Is it a problem? Not at all. In fact, let's keep the cool vibe going – set that effect bus pan to a solid 80 percent left, just like we did with the rhythm guitar's pan automation before. Consistency is key, and we're steering this ship with style.

True, we can keep it steady, but you're onto something. Let's dial up the cool factor a notch – instead of a fixed pan, how about a slick gradient shift from 80 percent left back to the original 30 percent left? And hey, if you're feeling the groove, let's throw in an automation curve for the effect channel's pan. It's all about that smooth, dynamic transition until the other instruments kick in. Let the cool waves roll!

Automate the panning of the TelephoneEQ FX channel

Awesome work! Navigating through those intricate effect modifications can be a bit of a dance, but you nailed it. If you have any more tweaks or moves in mind, feel free to lay them down. The studio's your playground, and you're the maestro orchestrating the cool vibes.

Improving the Solo Guitar’s Sound

The solo guitar's vibe needs a shake-up. It's not about tweaking the EQ; it's about ditching that steady, mundane sound. We're on a quest for presence, for a vibe that grabs you. Let's switch up the game and bring some soul to that solo guitar. No more boring, just pure sonic charisma.

Luckily, we've got the ace up our sleeve – the FabFilter Volcano Filter Plugin. Time to spice things up! Let's give that solo guitar a makeover, cranking up the cool factor. Brace yourself for some sonic fireworks!

Volcano Filter for our solo guitar

Boom! I dropped the Volcano 3 right onto our solo guitar insert and went on the hunt for the perfect vibe. What's the verdict? I stumbled upon the 'FX / Funky Phaser' preset, and man, it's the secret sauce. Give it a whirl, or if you're feeling adventurous, let's craft our own custom preset to give that solo guitar the kick it deserves.

Cranking up the Chorus

Time for another round of gain automation wizardry, and this time, our MixBus takes center stage. All instruments are throwing down here, making it the prime spot for some sonic magic. Let's craft a slick gain automation curve, cranking it up by around +1 dB for each chorus and sending the outro off with a bang. It's all about taking that mix to the next level. Let the MixBus groove begin!

Raising the chorus

Spot on! That break right before diving into the chorus is the sweet spot for a gradual gain lift. No need for it to hit like a ton of bricks – let's finesse it with a smooth, gradual increase. We want that transition to be seamless, like the calm before the storm. Let's make it soar!

Love the vibe! Picture this: we're building up the tension during the break, cranking it up a notch through the chorus, and then bam! We hit the brakes hard, letting the gain plummet back to its original groove. It's that moment of release, like a runner cooling down after a competition. We're crafting sonic stories here, and this one's got a killer plot twist.

Taming the Cymbals

The harshness of the cymbals could be reduced simply using a De-esser. Another alternative would be to throw in a dynamic EQ node in the high-end, but a Pro-DS instance seems to be much less complicated for this case.

Never, ever… cut off the Drums

As you ride out the tail end of the song, catch that cymbal splash on the last chord—it's the grand finale. But here's the twist: as the song gracefully bows out, we're cutting off not just the song, but also the natural decay of the cymbal's reverb. It's like pulling the curtain down on a musical masterpiece.

The sudden cut-off at the end seems like a hiccup in the editing process. Odds are, somewhere in the exporting of the stems, things got a bit wonky. Let's do a quick check, smooth out those edges, and make sure that grand cymbal splash gets the ending it deserves. We're aiming for perfection, and this is just a little detour on the road to sonic greatness.

Fading out the drum's decay

Easy fix! No need for fancy automation acrobatics. We'll just head straight into the editor window, throw a smooth fade-out curve on those drums, and let them gracefully bow out. It's all about the finesse, and this is a classic move that gets the job done.

Mix Bus Processing and Mastering

Looks like we're pretty much done with our mix. There are two things left before we unleash this beast onto any streaming service: mix bus processing and mastering. But what's the difference between the two?

Actually, both of them refer to similar concepts since they both involve applying some processing to the overall mix. Some engineers prefer to handle the complete mastering on the mix bus, while others perform mix bus processing using a mastering tool. In this workshop, we'll distinguish between the two and focus on adding a touch of cohesion on the mix bus, reserving the mastering for Studio ONE's project page.

So, let's kick things off with the mix bus gluing.

Getting the Mix Bus Fixed

On the internet, you'll find a plethora of suggestions on what to do with the mix bus. However, most of them, in my opinion, lean more towards the mastering process rather than mix bus processing.

I won't mess with the tonal character or the stereo width on the mix bus. Never ever! I had my chance to play with that during channel and bus processing. Here, it's all about gluing things together and adding that sweet touch of analog production.

Mix Bus Compression

To bring everything together, I apply an extremely subtle compression on the mix bus. And by "subtle," I mean really subtle. Remember, our goal isn't to make the song louder, pump it up, or anything like that. We just want to delicately glue things together.

To keep things subtle, I go for a gentle compression ratio of 2:1. This ensures that even when the compressor kicks in, it's not slashing the gain as much as those compressors we had on the channels and buses. When the threshold is exceeded by +1 dB, we just dial down the gain by -2 dB (as opposed to the -4 dB we did on our busses).

Another trick to ensure the compressor works gently is to go for longer attack and release rates. In this example, I've set it to 20 ms for attack and 200 ms for release. These rates aren't extremely long, but they keep the compressor from hitting our sound too hard. Compression is happening, but it's so gradual that the listener might not even notice.

Some folks suggest setting a threshold that results in very low gain reduction, even advising not to exceed -1 dB. But seriously, ever tried reducing an entire bus or the full mix by just -1 dB? It's barely noticeable. And with compression, it's even more inconspicuous because you only hit that -1 dB gain reduction at the peaks, not all the time. So, in my opinion, it's mostly pointless. I usually aim for a gain reduction of up to -3 dB most of the time.

Glue compression on the mix bus

The other characteristics of this compressor include:

  • Opt for a middle to soft knee. Choosing a hard knee would make things sound overly crispy.
  • To avoid distortions, I've set the Oversampling to 2x.
  • I've thrown in a bit of Lookahead to make sure I'm not squashing down the transients too much.

Adding an Analog Vibe

With the CTC-1, an analog mix engine, Presonus introduced some fantastic tools to impart a pleasant and somewhat subtle analog vibe to your entire mix, as if it were crafted on an analog console.

However, I won't delve into the details here; instead, I'll just recommend adding a console shaper to your mix bus. This brings about the overbleeding of neighboring tracks, introduces some saturation, noise, and all the nuances that come with an analog console.

On each bus channel, you'll notice a small triangle at the very top labeled "Mix FX." Open the dropdown list by clicking this triangle on the mix bus, and select CTC-1. Remember, you only have to do this on the mix bus, not on any other bus in your mix. Setting this console shaper on the mix bus will automatically influence all your relevant channels.

Console shaper CTC-1 on the mix bus

Once you've added the console shaper to your mix bus, pick one of the presets and experiment with the parameters.

For most of my mixes, I favor the "Beverly Hills" preset, but feel free to explore the other presets as well.

The Mastering Signal Chain

Folks, we’re finally done with our mix!

Now, the fun part begins as we master our song. To do that, we're going to use the Studio ONE project page. This means we have to create a new "Project" (not a song) and import our mix into it.

Before diving into it, double-check your mix. Make sure there aren't any sneaky plugins hanging around that shouldn't be there. Personally, I've tackled a bunch of projects using headphones. Mixing with headphones is a bit of a wild ride because of that intense stereo field, unlike the more straightforward near-field monitor experience. That's where a nifty plugin called "Abbey Roads Studio 3" comes into play on my master channel. It gives my headphones a taste of various monitors and throws in some EQ tweaks tailored to the specific headphones I'm rocking.

This serves as a prime example of a plugin that we'll never, ever allow in our mix when bouncing it down for mastering. I mean it, never!

As mentioned before, kick out all the unnecessary plugins, shut down the song page, and kick off a fresh project. Simply drag and drop your Studio ONE song file into the project page, and you're set for an epic mastering session. Let's make this track sound seriously fat!

Mastering project with imported song

Matching EQ to our Reference Song

If you've been rolling with my advice, you would have picked a reference song to vibe with during the mixing process. But guess what? The journey of this track is far from over.

No need to spell it out—it's a real challenge to nail the vibe of that reference song during mastering if you didn't pay it due respect in the mixing stage, right? But hey, if you were on point with it, don't hesitate to throw in a comparison tool like the AB metric. Take a peek at the spectrum of both tracks and let the magic unfold.

I flipped the spectrum display to octave mode and layered up the view with the reference song and our track. Depending on the gain range, zooming in is a slick move, giving us a better shot at comparing these signals with precision.

Now, hit play and dive into the comparison game. Start with the first displayed octave and let it ride for a bit. Sure, there might be moments where the reference track flexes more gain, and other times it's our track taking the spotlight. But the real deal? Look at the big picture. Which track is bringing more energy in that octave overall? That's the secret sauce.

Now add a EQ to your song and start adding nodes for each octave in it. Depending on what you saw, raise or lower the eq of the node.

Octave comparison with the reference track

I wrap things up with a slick curve, crafting a tonal experience that vibes a bit more with the reference song.

Tonal EQ curve matching the reference song

Adding Real Multiband Compression

Throwing in a multiband compressor during mastering is like dialing up the punch and cranking the energy for the entire track. Unlike the compressor's role in mixing, where it often boosts channel or bus loudness, our goal here isn't about gaining volume. It's all about sculpting that punchy, kick-ass sound we crave in a modern rock production.

Again, we use the FabFilter Pro-MB.

A solid kick-off is to hit up one of the presets, like the "basic 4-band punch and balance." Get that foundation in place.

Multiband compression with FabFilter preset

It's crucial to eyeball the thresholds for each band and fine-tune them to match your vibe. FabFilter tends to go broad with parameters like attack and release, so take a moment to dial them in to your liking.

Real Analog Saturation

Once again, I'm tossing a bit of saturation into the mix. As I've hammered home a few times, I'm a bit old-school, and that analog warmth hits different for me. While tape saturation is a contender, being a fellow guitarist, you get why that warm tube sound is my top pick.

Tube saturation with Saturn 2

The weapon of our choice is Saturn 2 from FabFilter again. And I don’t mess around with parameters here, but simply use a preset again, which is called “Color / The Tube”. This gives a real cool analog feeling and even some more punch and presence to our song.

Making it HiFi again

Now, let's spice things up with another EQ to inject a bit more HiFi goodness. Back in my younger days (sometime in the 80s), we had this weird habit of cranking the bass and treble on our HiFi systems to the max. It was a bit over the top, kind of wild, but hey, we dug that vibe back in the day.

We're riding that wave, but no need to go as bonkers as the 80s. Let's just throw in a gentle high shelf for the side channel and a subtle low shelf for the mid channel. Keeping it cool, not cranking it to eleven.

HiFi EQ

Cranking up the Gain

Now, for the moment you've been itching for—the essence of mastering: cranking up the volume to the absolute max, right?

(Just kidding, we're keeping it real and making sure it sounds killer without blowing out any eardrums.)

Now, there's one gem from the FabFilter mixing and mastering suite that's been patiently waiting backstage: the Limiter Pro-L. It's showtime! Slap it onto your track and pick a preset that speaks to you. For this particular jam, I'm gunning for loud, hard, and punchy, so "Loud / Hardrock and Metal – Punchy Aggressive" it is. Let's crank this up to eleven!

Limiting up to the limit

Taking the term "crank it up to eleven" quite literally, I pushed the gain to the max, hitting a Short Term LUFS of -11. Let's make some noise!

Sure, you could keep cranking it up, aiming to be the loudest king on the block, but here's the catch: you might end up with the loudest, yet worst-sounding track in the kingdom. It's a balancing act, my friend. Quality over sheer volume.

Tap into the Studio ONE feature to gauge the loudness across the entire track. Shoot for a realistic value like -14 LUFS if you're eyeing a streaming service upload or -11 LUFS for a CD master. Stay in that sweet spot—no need to push beyond. Quality wins the race, and those realistic levels ensure your track shines wherever it lands.

Loudness information after FX chain

Here you can see that we have a final LUFS of -12.5 on the overal track. When we want to master for a CD, we still have +1.5 LUFS of headroom, meaning that we can raise the gain of the limiter for another +1.5 dB to reach the final destination loudness of -11 LUFS.

Conclusion

We are done!

I trust this workshop has given you a solid peek into my mixing process. Hopefully, you've snagged some valuable insights and can weave them into your own sonic endeavors. If anything sparked your creativity or made your mixing journey smoother, then I've hit the right notes. Keep rocking those mixes!

If you've got suggestions, questions, or even fancy having your song mixed by me (bearing in mind it's strictly a beloved hobby, not a commercial venture), hit me up anytime. Just drop me a line, and let's keep the musical conversation going. Cheers!