Cut It Out: Muting & EQ

May 15th, 2012 Jonny Kaine Posted in Mixing No Comments »

There are four bits of advice that I think have most improved the quality of my mixes, I’ll quickly go over the first three and then focus on the fourth which is the topic of this post.

(#1) Use the best monitors you can afford (if you are going to splurge on any music gear, it should be your monitors.) The importance of a good set of monitors is difficult to overstate.

If you can’t accurately hear how what you’re doing is effecting the sound of your mix then it’s very unlikely you’re going to be able to create a decent mix that translates to various playback systems.

Don’t use headphones to mix. Yes, many people listen back to music on headphones now but what I’ve found is that if you can make your mix sound good on monitors than it’s going to sound good on headphones too but the reverse is definitely not the case.

(#2) Check your mixes in mono too. Even if you don’t think your music will ever be played back in mono (and you may be surprised at the scenarios where it may be) I still think it’s a good idea to check your mixes in mono.

Using one Avantone Mixcube as my mono playback system (and clicking on the mono playback button on Reaper) has been an ear opening experience. What I tend to do is get my mix sounding pretty good on my stereo monitors and then I switch to mono playback and I usually notice some issues that are not as obvious in stereo.

I think of it as a “microscope” for my mixes. It allows me to hear all of the problems much easier which is awesome because it also lets me fix them much easier! After I get my mix sounding good in mono on this “crappy” speaker it then usually sounds really good when I switch it back to my stereo monitors.

(#3) Acoustic Design. Those of us with home studios usually have less than ideal spaces to mix in but there are some things we can do to improve that space for mixing (and recording.) This is too big of a subject to get into in detail here but I would recommend buying this book and learning a bit about it. It’s important.

One easy thing you can do to lessen the impact of a subpar listening environment is to monitor at lower levels (this is also good to decrease the effect of ear fatigue.)

(#4) Cut it out. This brings me to my main topic for this post; the importance of muting unneeded tracks and what may seem like drastic use of EQ cuts to those who haven’t thought of using EQ in this way before.

(a) Just because it was recorded doesn’t mean it needs to be in the final mix. I almost always find at least one part that can be cut out entirely. If the part isn’t essential to the song; cut it out. Hit the mute button. Often times just muting one part makes all of the other parts sound better.

This goes back a bit to my point about mono playback. When you playback in mono it’s much more difficult to get everything to sit together. I do a lot of my muting & EQ cuts when I’m playing back in mono. Then when I go back to stereo I’m always amazed how much more clear and “professional” my mix sounds with the mutes & EQ cuts I’ve done in mono.

This brings me to another point which could really have its own header because of how important it is: Really listen closely to recordings that you love (or the songs you are trying to emulate) and notice how much (or how little) is actually going on. In most cases there’s less going on at one time then you probably thought there was.

(b) Massive EQ cuts to the lows & the highs. I put a cut on the bass on almost every track (even tracks that don’t sound like they have any bass often do have some rumble that’s sneaking into your mix and muddying it up.)

The easy way to do this is to cut the EQ up to the point where you can hear the effect and then lay back off it a bit until you can’t hear it anymore. I do this on both the highs and the lows. Generally I hear the cuts on the highs more quickly than I do on the lows.

You have to be careful here not to overdo it to the point where you make the parts sound overly manicured although you should also keep in mind that it doesn’t really matter what an instrument sounds like when it’s played back solo, it only matters how it sounds in the context of the song with everything playing back.

This is a very common mistake! People will spend hours getting all of their tracks to sound perfect when played back on their own but then they are dismayed when they play them all back at once and it sounds terrible. Think about what the word “mix” means and it becomes obvious why this is the wrong way to go about it. To repeat: It doesn’t matter what a track sounds like on its own.

The hardest part of this for me is finding a space for your bass and your kick drum. I don’t think there’s an easy to share formula for this, you just have to try to give each one its own space (and you have to decide which one of them is going to be the lowest part of the song, because they can’t both be at the same time.)

The end result of all of this cutting of lows & highs is not a song without any low end or high end but a song with much more clear and powerful low end and high end.

It may seem like having all kinds of stuff going on in the low end at the same time would be the way to have a really strong bass sound, but it’s actually the opposite. If you have a strong bass sound you want that sound to have that area to itself rather than letting it get muddied up by all the other crap in your mix.

EQ Cut with Fabfilter Pro Q

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Mixing with an Avantone Mixcube is Like Using a Microscope

March 6th, 2012 Jonny Kaine Posted in Mixing No Comments »

I bought an Avantone Mixcube to use for mono mixing last month and I used it to mix a song for the first time over the weekend.

I had the song mixed to the point where I thought it sounded pretty good on my KRK5s when I decided to flip to mono playback on the Mixcube.

Right off I noticed all kinds of things that I hadn’t noticed when mixing in stereo on the KRK5s. It was like putting my mix under a microscope. At first I was a bit deflated by how terrible my mix sounded in mono on the Mixcube but then I realized this is a good thing, it’s giving me a chance to hear what’s wrong so I can fix it.

There were timing issues between two guitar parts that weren’t really obvious when they were spread left & right but when they were laid on top of each other it was a bit of a mess. I didn’t have time to re-record for this particular project so I used Melodyne‘s quantization to tighten up the timing until it sounded good (but I didn’t push the quantization so far that it sounds robotic.)

I also used EQ more aggressively because I was trying to get the different parts to sit comfortably on top of each other in mono (which is of course much more difficult than when you have the advantage of stereo.)

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, I muted a couple of tracks that I realized weren’t adding enough interest to make up for the mess they were adding to the mix.

Once I had it sounding how I wanted on the Mixcube I switched back over the KRK5s and I was instantly blown away by how great my mix sounded. It was a clear improvement over where it was at before. All the parts were clear and it really packed a punch as well.

At this point I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be doing a lot of my mixing in mono. It really does feel like using a microscope to me, it just seems to make it so easy to see (hear) where the problems are and if you know where the problems are, you can correct them.

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Avantone Mixcube for Mono Mixing

February 11th, 2012 Jonny Kaine Posted in Mixing No Comments »

For now I’ve decided to go with buying one Avantone Mixcube and using it for mono mixing. I’ve read a lot of great things about this approach as far as creating mixes that translate (no matter where they are played back.)

I’ve also read some things that are making me question the monitors I have been using (KRK 5s) because of their ported design.

According to what I’ve read in this book I should go with an unported 2.1 system (Blue Sky Media Desk is recommended) and use mono monitoring with an Avantone Mixcube as a secondary monitor system.

Considering how much less expensive it is to go with buying just one Mixcube, I’m going to go that route first and then possibly add the Blue Sky Media Desk 2.1 system later on.

In the meantime I may also try putting socks in the ports of my KRK5s to dampen the bass ringing that is apparently a big problem with comparatively inexpensive ported monitors.

I’ll be sharing my experience with mono mixing (which I’ve never really tried before) and putting a sock in my ports in future posts here.

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Two Sets of Monitors

January 26th, 2012 Jonny Kaine Posted in Mixing No Comments »

Up until now I’ve only used one set of monitors in my studio (the Rokit KRK 5s) and I’ve always ignored the advice to use multiple sets of monitors (partly because I’m not made out of money.)

But recently it’s sort of clicked for me just how important it is to have two sets of monitors, particularly two sets of monitors that are reasonably different from each other.

The idea being that if you can make your mix sound good on both of these sets of monitors then the chance of your mix working just about everywhere in the “real world” seems like it would increase significantly.

I’m considering the Yamaha HS50Ms based on some online recommendations.

I’m also considering getting a single speaker to use for mono monitoring (maybe this one.) Perhaps going back and forth between my KRK5s in stereo and another monitor in mono is the way to go? (I also check my mixes on my ATH M50 headphones.)

I am interested more recommendations on where to go with this. Share yours in the comments. Thanks!

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Distance Between Monitors

October 13th, 2010 Jonny Kaine Posted in Mixing No Comments »

The distance between your monitors is important when you’re mixing. If they aren’t the right distance apart you are likely to have problems getting your levels right.

If the monitors are too far apart then sounds panned to the sides will sound louder (and sounds in the center quieter) and conversely if the monitors are too close then the sound in the center will sound louder (and the sounds on the sides will sound quieter.)

For example if your monitors are spread far apart you are very likely to compensate for the lower volume of the sounds placed in the middle by raising their volume. This will create a mix that will not translate well.

So how do you find the right distance? With your ears! You can’t see the right distance, you can only hear it.

You should play a mono song (being a huge Beatles fan I use Beatles songs from The Beatles in Mono Box Set) and then move the monitors closer together and farther apart listening from your listening position. Listen for a place where the song sounds like it’s evenly spread across the distance of the speakers rather than bunched up in the middle (too close) or coming too much from the sides (too far apart.)

The reason you should use a mono song instead of a stereo song is that when you play back a stereo track there’s too much information to deal with. You may hear a guitar on the right and a tambourine on the left, but that has to do with the specific stereo mix of that song, it doesn’t tell you anything about your speaker placement.

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The Importance of Monitors

September 27th, 2010 Jonny Kaine Posted in Gear, Mixing 2 Comments »

A lot of beginners in the world of recording music don’t really understand the importance of monitors. They may spend thousands of dollars on all kinds of gear and not even think about investing in some serious studio monitors. Or they may totally miss the point and spend a lot of money on something like this Bose system thinking that the idea with monitors is the same as with a stereo system you might buy for your living room.

It’s not. It’s a different concept entirely. It’s not about wanting what you’re mixing to sound “good,” it’s about wanting to accurately hear what you’re mixing.

A good example of what I mean is the way a fancy “hifi” stereo makes the bass boom. This may sound great to your ears, but if the system is making all of the bass boom regardless of what it actually sounds like then this means you don’t really know what’s going on in the low end of your mix. It may sound good but it is not an accurate representation.

And when your mix is played back on some other system it will sound completely different.

You don’t want this. You want to hear what’s happening in your mix as clearly as possible! This way you can make your mix sound as good as possible on any playback system. Whether it be those fancy Bose speakers or earbuds or tinny laptop speakers.

What about headphones? While good quality headphones (such as the Audio Technica M-50‘s I have and recommend) are a good investment and I do think it’s good to check your mixes on headphones (I personally love listening to music on headphones and many people listen to music that way these days) it’s not good to rely on them as your principle monitors.

Why not? Because they tend to exaggerate the actual sound. Something that may sound great on your headphones may actually sound not so hot when playing back on good quality monitors. Most obviously they exaggerate the effect of panning, but it’s more than just that. More importantly they also exaggerate fletcher-munson effects.

You must make it a priority to invest in some decent monitors. I use KRK5‘s which I’m happy with. They are $300 for a pair. But this post isn’t so much about recommending any particular set of monitors, it’s just to get across the point of how important they are.

Also extremely important: The acoustics of your room. They really makes a huge difference when recording and when mixing because poor acoustics can distort what you’re hearing (and what your mic is recording.) I recommend reading this book to learn about the topic (it includes very good information on how you can make your room sound better.)

It may be much more fun to buy various effects and plugins or whatever, but the accuracy of what you are listening to is far more important and it depends on the quality of the monitors you are listening to and the acoustic design of your studio. If you want to get serious about the sound quality of your recordings you need to get serious about hearing what you are mixing as accurately as possible.

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Front-Back Mix (Reverb)

June 15th, 2010 Jonny Kaine Posted in Books, Mixing No Comments »

I’ve just started reading a book titled This Is Your Brain On Music which was written by a musician turned producer turned neuroscientist named Daniel Levitin. I’m really into learning about the science of music at the moment. I’ve recently read two other books on this topic: Musicophilia & Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy.

It’s a very good sign that I’m going to really love this book that on page two of the introduction I’ve already found something in it that “clicked” with me to the point where I want to share it here.

This little tidbit may be quite obvious to most of you reading this, and it probably should be obvious to me but for whatever reason I never quite thought about it like this.

The author was talking about listening to music on headphones for the first time and he wrote about how he could clearly hear “the placement of the instruments both in the left-right field and in the front-back field (reverberant) space.”

It’s that bit about thinking of the “front-back field” in that way that got my attention. This is something I already know really (a dry sound is more up front while a reverb sound is farther back) but yet it still seems like a revelation in a way. Like something that will help me when I’m doing my mixes. To think not only in left-right terms but in front-back as well.

What this really leads to is thinking more clearly about when and how to use reverb. I’ve already been experimenting with different amounts of pre-delay on my reverb lately and how that can make a huge difference in the sound. And reading this makes me want to go further with this experimentation.

As you can surely tell, this blog post is not really meant to be a “how to” lesson from me (like some of my other posts are.) This is more about a cerebral thing just to get you thinking (and to try to get whatever I’m thinking more clear to me.) I love thinking about mixing in different ways. I think that this can help open up new possibilities.

It’s important to be open to learning new things and to be open to looking at what you think you already know from new perspectives. To never think you have it all figured out. I’ve noticed that some people are inclined to thinking they’ve got it all figured out when they’ve really only scratched the surface and this keeps them from progressing. Don’t fall into this trap! (I say this to myself as much as to anyone reading this entry.)

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An Ear Training Method

March 16th, 2010 Jonny Kaine Posted in Mixing No Comments »

In this post I’m talking about ear training in the recording/mixing engineer sense rather than in the musician sense (I’m a big fan of EarMaster software to help with that, by the way.)

Ideally you want to know what moving the EQ around is going to sound like before you do it. Instead of blindly sweeping the EQ around you want to go in with laser focus and move exactly the band that will get the track sounding the way you want it to within the mix (and that’s important to remember; you don’t care what it sounds like when it’s soloed only how it sounds within the mix as a whole.)

Being able to do this will save you a lot of time that you would have been spending randomly sweeping EQs around looking for the sweet spot and it will also keep your ears fresher.

I believe this ear training method I’m about to share with you will help you to reach that ideal by training your ear to hear exactly what each EQ band sounds like so that you’ll know where you want to cut or boost the EQ.

This is how it works:

(1) Bypass your EQ plugin.
(2) Picture the EQ cut or boost you want in your mind.
(3) Move the EQ so that you think it will sound that way.
(4) Activate the plugin.

At this point you want to notice the difference between how it actually sounds and how you thought it would sound.

Keep at this until you are able to consistently EQ to the sound that you want with your EQ bypassed.

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Six Mixing Tips

March 15th, 2010 Jonny Kaine Posted in Mixing 2 Comments »

People (including myself) love quick “takeaway” ideas that they can apply to whatever they are doing right away. That’s the idea with these seven tips. Hopefully you’ll find at least one these tips to be something you haven’t tried before, something that you can try out on your next project.

#1 Cut Bass EQ When The Bass Is Muddy

I’ve found that many of the best mixing tips I’ve come across are also some of the most counter intuitive ones. This actually makes sense because counter intuitive ideas are the hardest ones to come up with on your own.

This tip is a good example of this concept. If you’ve got a muddy bass sound in your mix then your first instinct may be to try to pump the bass instrument up higher. But you may be better off actually cutting the bass EQ. Not on the bass or the kick drum but on everything else.

By cutting out the bass on other parts that don’t necessarily need the bass part of their frequency spectrum you can open up more space for the bass parts you really want to hear.

In a similar way it’s often a good idea to try to sculpt the EQs of your kick drum and your bass so that they each have their own space. This should provide more clarity and a stronger, clearer bass sound.

By the way, this tip also works for the high end. The first instinct when you’ve got no highs shining through may be to raise them, but you will probably get better results by cutting back some of the highs you don’t need. This will leave more space for the highs you want to be heard.

#2 Panning In Mono

This may be the king of counter intuitive tips. I’ve found that I can often get the perfect panning arrangement by actually flipping REAPER over to mono and then moving the panning around until everything sits just right in mono.

When I flip it back to stereo I’ve got a nice rich stereo spectrum that isn’t too wide and isn’t too narrow. And of course I already know it works perfectly in mono too.

#3 You Don’t Have To Include Everything In The Final Mix

Just because it was recorded doesn’t mean it has to be included in the final mix. You know that old saying “less is more”? It’s probably more applicable to mixing than just about anything else.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you need to have spare mixes. A lot of my favorite music is quite busy. All I mean is that you don’t want to be wed to including every single part that was recorded in the mix. A lot of times the best thing you can do to make a mix come to life is to remove something that may be holding it down.

#4 Level Matching

When you add effects to a track be sure you adjust the output so the volume is the same as the bypassed version of the track. This allows you to listen to a good A/B comparison to make sure that you really like what the effect is doing rather than just getting excited about it being louder.

#5 Mix At A Normal Listening Volume

Or even a bit lower.

It’s not a good idea to mix while listening to the music at a very loud volume for a number of reasons. One of those is that you will fatigue your ear very quickly. Another is that it’s much easier to make something sound “good” when it’s loud. It’s more of a challenge to make it sound good when it’s quiet. If you can do that, it will sound good when it’s loud too.

#6 Don’t “Perfect” Soloed Tracks

Nobody’s going to be listening to the guitar by itself, they are going to be listening to the guitar within the mix. It doesn’t matter how it sounds when it’s soloed, it only matters how it sounds in the mix. You can waste a lot of time perfecting a soloed track only to realize that it’s in the way of everything else when you bring everything else back up.

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How To Set Your Compressor

March 11th, 2010 Jonny Kaine Posted in Mixing 3 Comments »

I think learning how to set a compressor correctly is one of the more difficult things to master because the way it effects the sound can be quite subtle. The key to setting your compressor correctly is to make the changes less subtle (before eventually making them more subtle again.)

Before I get to what I mean by that statement, let me first direct your attention to my last post on the “Importance of Level Matching” because I think it’s very important to think about this when setting a compressor. Sure, you can make things “louder” with a compressor but does it really work within the context of the song? There may be some times when you are, in effect, using compression to make a track sound louder but be sure to listen to the difference between using compression and just turning up the volume.

I also think my post before that (on technique being more important than gear) is also relevant here. It may be more relevant when talking about compressors than anything else actually. I believe it’s far more important to know how to set your compressor than whether you are using a cheap (or free) compression plugin, a $300 MPA PRO VLA II, or a $4000+ Focusrite Red 3.

OK, now to get to what I mean about setting the compressor so that the changes are more obvious at first so that you can hear what you’re doing more clearly. What I do is I think of it as a step by step process where I get each setting (Attack, Release, Ratio, & Threshold) correct one at a time.

The Compression Setting Process

Step One: Set the Release to as fast as it will go, the Ratio to as high as it will go, and the Threshold to where it’s very sensitive (where the compressor is working on the input in a significant way.)

Once you’ve got those three knobs set in this extreme fashion you are ready to start adjusting the Attack knob to where you want it to be. The idea is that the above extreme settings will allow you to hear what’s happening when you adjust the Attack much more clearly so that you will be able to get right.

What you will want to do is move the attack faster and slower and listen closely (mixing, when it comes down to it, is all about listening closely) to how it effects the sound. When the attack is faster it will cut out more of the transients and when it’s slow more of the transient will get through. Which way you want it to be set depends entirely on the situation.

This is an important point. You need to forget about presets when it comes to compression. They are a waste of time. You need to be listening to how the settings effect what you are doing in each particular situation. The more you do this, the more of a “feel” you will get for getting the sound that you want quickly.

Another point I need to make is that with the extreme settings on the other three knobs, the overall sound of the compression will be really awful, you need to ignore that. Those extreme settings are so you can focus in on the sound of the Attack and how adjusting the attack effects the sound.

Step Two: Once the Attack is set where you want it, it’s time to start working on the Release setting. To put it simply the Release is how quickly the compression stops working. This is an important setting as far as how your compressor effects the timing of your track.

The Attack knob tells the compressor how quickly to start compressing (when the sound goes above the Threshold) and the Release knob tells it how quickly to stop compressing the sound after it’s been triggered.

Similar to what I said about setting the Attack, when you are setting the Release you need to be listening closely to how it is effecting the music. Forget about presets and try to forget about math (about where it’s “supposed” to be set based on BPM or whatever) and try to get a feel for where it releases so that it fits in with the groove of the song. And that doesn’t necessarily mean “perfectly in time” either, in fact it pretty much never means that. Don’t set it like it’s a metronome. That’s not groovy.

Step Three: At this point you should have your Attack and Release settings where you want them to be. Now it’s time to lower your Ratio knob and lower it until you get it where you want it to be.

One way of approaching this is to lower the Ratio until you no longer hear the effects of the Attack/Release clearly and then to start raising it back up until it’s where it sounds just right.

Presets and formulas aren’t going to do you much good when trying to set the Ratio. Memorizing that you’re supposed to be at 4:1 for this and 2:1 for that may help you get you pretty close to where you want to be, or it may just stop you from doing what you need to be doing most: listening closely.

Step Four: Once you’ve got your Attack, Release, & Ratio settings right you will be ready for the final step of setting your compressor which is setting the Threshold.

If you followed my advice and set it to be very sensitive then the compressor is probably working pretty much all the time and this is great for being able to hear what you’re doing so that you can effectively set the first three knobs but it’s probably not what you really want.

You should make the threshold less sensitive until it’s higher than you want it to be and then you should lower it until it sounds right (this is sort of like what I just said you should do with the Ratio where you lower it until you don’t really hear the effect anymore and then raise it until it’s just right.)

It’s unlikely that you would want the compression to be on all the time. There should be moments where it’s not doing anything (the quieter moments.)


I’m hoping that you find this “process” helpful in opening up your ear. It’s really all about allowing you to hear what each setting is doing more clearly so that you can make a more informed decision about where the settings should be to get the sound you want. My motto is that mixing is all about listening closely and I think using this process makes it easier to listen closely to the effects of compression.

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