A short interview with a reader of the Guitar And Sound forum discussing mixing techniques.

GAS: Mal I need your help- one thing I REALLY need to nail down in this world to improve my mixes is to nail which frequencies to cut to really get good seperation of instruments. mixes.

Ben:

Often, I really go for a "no eq" needed style of mixing. Of course, it's an ideal that can probably never be reached. Basically, try to record all the tracks so they sit well together before you mix and eq. If your mix sounds great when every fader is at unity, just imagine how incredible it will be when you actually mix it! Here are a few guidelines to achieve this:

  1. Make all tone decisions with as many other instruments playing as possible.
    What I've done lately, is record two scratch guitar tracks with a click. Then when I'm getting ready to record drums, I can choose my drum samples along with those and find things that are going to mesh well with my proposed guitars. After the drums are down, I record the actual guitar tracks and tweak in the guitar tones to match the drums. Bass goes down being tweaked while playing along with drums and guitar. Vocals preproduction (mic and preamp selection, positioning) is done along with the other tracks. Hopefully this all leads to instruments being recorded with very complimentary tones from the beginning.

  2. Use the low cut on your mixer!
    Vocals and guitars are all recorded with the 75hz low cut of my mixer turned on. I also turn on the low cut filter of whatever vocal mic I happen to be using.

  3. Don't be afraid to try unconventional things that sound like crap on their own. I acidentally recorded bass for my current track with the biamp turned on in my BODxt. That means I only recorded bass from about 135hz and up with an 18db slope. I wanted to kick myself in the ass but I just couldn't because as I was tweaking, I just kept thinking it was the best bass tone I'd gotten on one of my recordings yet. So I decided to roll with it and we can all be the judge in a month or two when I post the finished track. The bass sounded awful thin when playing solo, but it sounded so darn good in the mix that I just couldn't bring myself to change it.

GAS: Case in point- I recorded some guitar and bass the other day- sent a clip off to some folks here....I was like- how come I really can't hear the bass? Standard AC/DC meets STP meets EVH Marshall kinda tone on guitar....p bass meets semi-hollow tone on bass.. So I am scratching my head asking everyone, and one of my producer friends says - "dude, cut 250Hz out of the guitar, and both guitar and bass will suddenly become distinct." I was like-"yeah, but cut it by how many db exactly" he was like "ELIMINATE IT. Destroy 250Hz, take it out like a burst appendix, etc."

So I cut it by -12db and lo and behold it WORKED- suddenly I could hear them both perfectly. It was like taking mud of the windshield!

Ben:

Yeah, don't be afraid to try stuff like that. If it works, then you're one step closer. If it doesn't, it's not going to cost you anything to bring that slider back up. When I experiment with "collective eq" of instruments to one another, I'll pick an instrument to bring out. For example, if the vocal is not cutting through, I'll eq the vocal and sweep for an additive frequency that enhances it at maybe +2 or +3db. Then I'll try each of the other instruments and destroy that same frequency and see if that helps bring out the vocal. Then, I might even be able to stop boosting that frequency in the vocal itself, if it is pronounced enough on the track.

GAS: So my question to you- obviously every situation is different, but do you have any suggestions in a mix with moderate rock gain for the following:
  • unmasking guitar vs. bass, as above
  • unmasking kick vs. bass
  • 2 guitars, same tone- which freq do you cut from one/both to make them stand out if both a re playing rhythm, what if one is playing lead, etc.

Ben:

  • unmasking guitar vs. bass, as above
    I personally do most of this in the tone tweaking stage. A lot of the bass tone is focused in the upper mids. At least to me, that's where I hear most of the definition. Search for some pleasing frequencies to give a slight boost. The bass attack is also quite important. Look for that up in the 2-5k range.

  • unmasking kick vs. bass
    Frequency masking in the low range is quite troublesome. I'll throw low cuts on every single instrument. Guitars get the ax at around 100hz (even though the low B on my 7's is around 60hz if I'm not mistaken, low E string is around 80hz). The bass usually gets killed at around 60-80hz even though the low E or B string will be about 40 or 30 hz respectively. I'll kill the kick drum near 40hz. This all serves a few purposes. For one, it gives each successively lower instrument it's own band of bass to work in. Second, it gets rid of super-sub freqs that can rob a listeners speakers of power, and muddy up the mix. I first got the idea when working with the Waves MaxxBass plugin. They increase the low frequency response by cutting more and more bass freqs and increasing high freqs that give the psychoacoustic image of increased bass. I found I could get the same types of enhancements through clever EQ. Bass frequencies take a lot of power to reproduce so speaker systems get very inefficient when trying to reproduce mixes with lots of bass. By getting rid of them, you make it much easier for the listeners' speakers to reproduce the rest of your mix with clarity and power.

  • 2 guitars, same tone- which freq do you cut from one/both to make them stand out if both a re playing rhythm, what if one is playing lead, etc.
    Go by ear pretty much. Though typically, I will never do this. That is, I don't like to track two tracks using the same tone on the same guitar. I will either switch to one of my other guitars, or tweak at least one knob on the amp (or POD Wink ). If I need the similar lead tone to stand out if I have recorded with similar tones, I'll do something like run the lead through the Vintage Warmer or Anteres Tube. Boost the lead volume, and don't be afraid to get a little crazy and low cut it at 500hz. I listen to my favorite guitar players and their lead tones are never gobbed up with bass.

GAS: it's the frequency masking between instruments that gets me every time.

Ben:

The best advice I ever tried to take for mixing, was to treat it like building a house. I don't even remember where I read it or who said it. Basically, once I've got all the instruments down and I'm actually going to mix, I start at the bottom, get a good foundation, and build up. I do the drums first. I mute everything else. Get a kickin drum mix going. Then I turn on the bass and mix the drums and bass together. Once I have the bass happening, I pay attention back to the drums and listen to see what the bass screwed up with them (or enhanced). Then I add the guitars. Focus on getting the guitars really happening (while the other instruments are playing) then do a little fix it on the other instruments. Then put the vocals on. Modify the recipe to suit your style of music and instrumentation. Something I never, ever do while mixing is solo an instrument to tweak it. I might solo it if I'm listening for a little flaw (like paper rustle on the vocal track) but never solo to tweak the track. Just keep the mix flowing. If you solo tracks, you end up focusing on the sound of the track itself, instead of the sound of the mix. When I'm looking for that special freq to boost on the bass, I never do it with the track solo'd. Do it with all the tracks playing. That's another great thing about doing the crazy stuff (I've cut guitar solos to just 800hz and above!). That guitar solo would have sounded the worst tone ever if solo'd, but in the mix, it totally fit.

There are other crazy interactions to discover in the context of a mix. I once was having a devil of a time getting a snare drum to really pop out of a mix. I worked on it for days and just couldn't get it to where I wanted it. I pretty much gave up. One day I turned the high hat down by 3db, and suddenly the snare was punching like Muhammed Ali. It was an experience I'll never forget. It's tricky, and really highlights the "art" of mixing. Sometimes you gotta know when to turn instrument B down, to get instrument A sounding better. Listening to your favorite mixes a lot helps. I once got on a kick where I wanted the hi-hat on all my mixes to sound like the hi-hat on Metallica's black album. It's so spacious yet sits in the mix perfectly.


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