How To Mix Music is our essential guide to becoming a music mixing professional. With this series I help explain and teach music mixing to you – musicians, producers, and aspiring mixing engineers. I share our years of experience and insight on mixing and mastering. Covering the necessary preparations, tools, underlying physics and insider tips and tricks to achieve the perfect mix and master.
The first episode covers setting yourself up to become a great engineer. We discussed monitoring, DAWs and plugins, composition, and stem preparing.
The second episode covers organizing your mixer, setting up your signal flow, and understanding the essential plugins (EQ, compressor, reverb, and delay).
The third episode covers how to improve your stereo image and make your mix sound wider. Also, we covered how to use the essential plugins to mix kicks and snares, the backbone of a song.
In this part I reveal our best techniques to mixing drums and mixing bass. I explain step by step how we place these different elements in the mixing space, go over our compressor settings, and give equalising tips to achieve a clean and crisp mix.
Mixing Drums & Mixing Bass
Placement: Claps are often added as either a replacement of snares, an addition to snares, or as miscellaneous effects.
With this in mind, and the fact that claps most often don’t have low frequencies, you can place claps at different locations in the mixing space. You have the opportunity to be creative here.
EQ (cut): The base frequencies of claps are often somewhere in between 350Hz and 500Hz. Add a HPF to cut away all unnecessary frequencies right before that base frequency.
Claps often need their high frequencies to cut through the mix. Therefore, we apply a LPF at around 15kHz to 20kHz to specify its frequency range.
Compression: With claps, same as with kicks, snares and other drums, we set the attack time of the compressor to occur right after the attack time of the clap to enhance the punch of the sound. This is often somewhere between 6 and 20 milliseconds.
The release time can be short, somewhere between 20 and 100 milliseconds often sounds great.
We compress claps often by 2dB to 6dB, with a ratio around 4:1.
EQ (boost): We rarely boost frequencies of claps. If we do, it is most often to increase the higher frequencies a tiny bit to enhance its brightness.
Reverb: Depending on what sound you are going for, claps often sound great with either drum reverb or the reverb of the overall space.
Placement: Even though toms have low frequencies, if equalized properly, they can sound very interesting on the sides of the mixing space. By doing this properly, you also create more space for the kick and the bass in the center of the mixing space.
EQ (cut): It is very important to cut away the low frequency rumble of toms. By doing this, you vastly improve your mix by making it less muddy.
The base frequencies of toms are often somewhere around 100Hz and 200Hz. You want to set a HPF right before these frequencies.
The highest frequencies of toms often differ, this could be between 500Hz and 15kHz, set a LPF according to the sound you want to achieve.
Compression: Same as with the other drums, we set the attack of the compressor right after the attack of the tom. This is often somewhere between 10 milliseconds and 25 milliseconds.
The release time of the compressor on a tom can be experimented with as the tails of toms often differ. Though, make sure that the compressor is back to 0dB before the next tom occurs.
We compress toms most often by 2dB to 6dB with a ratio between 3:1 and 5:1.
EQ (boost): To make toms sound rounder and give them more body, try boosting their ringtones with a notch filter. Read how to do this effectively in the previous episode.
Reverb: Toms often sound great without any reverb. Though, if they are rich in mid-high frequencies, they might also sound great with a little drum reverb.
Placement: Placement can be experimented with. If the percussion is a vital part of the core beat, it might sound best in the center of the mixing space. However, placement of miscellaneous percussion on the sides can create an interesting stereo image.
EQ (cut): The base frequencies of percussion are often somewhere between 300Hz and 500Hz. Add a HPF right before these frequencies.
On percussion we apply LPFs often around 15kHz, this way we still keep some high frequencies, but leave enough space for hi hats and crashes to come through in the mix.
Compression: Same as with the other drums, we set the attack time of the compressor right after the attack time of the percussion. This is often somewhere between 8 milliseconds and 20 milliseconds.
The release time of the compressor on percussion can be short. It often sounds great to set this somewhere between 25 milliseconds and 90 milliseconds.
We most often compress percussion by 2dB to 6dB with a ratio around 4:1.
EQ (boost): With certain percussion sounds you could enhance the ringtones with notch filters, which might give more body and sometimes more definition.
Reverb: Percussion often sounds great with drum reverb, and in some occasions with an emptier or more minimalistic mix, with reverb of the overall space.
Placement: Hi-hats sound great in the center as well as on the sides of the mixing space. If you have multiple hi-hats in a song, it can widen your mix by placing them differently on the sides.
EQ (cut): The base frequencies of hi-hats are often somewhere in between 500Hz and 2kHz. Apply a HPF right before these frequencies to keep a clean mix.
Hi-hats are important in defining the high frequencies of a song. Therefore, we add a LPF at the peak of their frequency range at around 20kHz.
Compression: The attack time of hi-hats is often somewhere in between 5 milliseconds and 15 milliseconds. For a defined sound, set the attack time of the compressor right after that moment.
The length of the sound of a hi-hat is short, so can be the release time of the compressor. For a right sound, you can set this often somewhere between 20 milliseconds and 60 milliseconds.
We compress hi-hats often by 2dB to 6dB, with a ratio between 3:1 to 6:1.
EQ (boost): We rarely boost the frequencies of hi-hats as this often results in a messy sound. If necessary, you can boost the high-end of hi-hats slightly around 10kHz to increase its definition.
Reverb: The reverb of hi-hats depends completely on the style of the song. For a clean and tight sound, do not apply any reverb on the hi-hats. For a more natural sound, add a little drum reverb on the hi-hats. For a spacious sound, add reverb of the overall space.
Placement: Crashes often consists of solely high frequencies and therefore sound great at the sides of the mix.
EQ (cut): Crashes often do not need any frequencies below 500Hz or 1kHz. Apply a HPF in this area and find the sweet spot.
Crashes, same as hi-hats, are important in defining the high frequencies of a mix. Crashes need to be able to utilize their highest frequencies to have impact on climaxing moments in a song. Therefore, we apply a LPF at around 20kHz, the peak of its frequency range.
Compression: You can set the attack time of the compressor on crashes depending on what kind of sound you want. If you want the attack of the crash to come through, you should set the attack of the compressor right after (often around 5 milliseconds to 20 milliseconds).
If you do not want to give an extra accentuation to the attack of the crash, you can set the attack time of the compressor before the attack of the crash.
As crashes often have a long tail, it often sounds great to set a long release time for the compressor (around 100 to 300 milliseconds).
We compress crashes often by 2dB to 4dB with a ratio between 3:1 till 5:1.
EQ (boost): We rarely boost frequencies of crashes. Though, if necessary, you can slightly boost frequencies above 10kHz to enhance the brightness of a crash.
Reverb: Depending on the sound you are going for, crashes often sound good with and without reverb.
For a clinical sound, do not use reverb. For a spacious sound, you can use the reverb of the overall space.
Placement: A bass is rich in low frequencies and it is therefore important to place it in the center of the mixing space.
EQ (cut): To get a defined sound for a bass, and get rid of the mud, it works great to set a HPF right before the base tone. This is often somewhere between 20Hz and 80Hz.
Some basses contain only low frequencies, others are also rich in mid-range frequencies. If the bass has only low frequencies, set a LPF right after the highest tone.
If the bass has also mid and/or mid-high frequencies, you want to define its highest frequencies according to other synths or instruments that might need those mid or mid/high frequencies to come through in the mix, or vice versa.
We often find that it sounds best to set a LPF on a bass with mid and mid/high frequencies somewhere around 500Hz to 1kHz. However, this depends solely on the bass and the song.
Compression: As basses are rich in low frequencies, we often compress basses more than other elements to increase the possibilities on a louder master. We do this with a compression of 2dB to 8dB with a ratio around 3:1 to 6:1.
To maintain the impact of the bass we set the attack of the compressor often around 30 milliseconds.
The tails of basses often differ, therefore you have to play around with the release time of the compressor and listen what sounds best.
EQ (boost): We rarely boost frequencies of basses, as that often gives a muddy result. Sometimes however, if the mix allows, we boost frequencies between 200Hz and 500Hz to improve the sound of the bass on laptop speakers.
Reverb: We do not use reverb on basses to create a sense of space, as a reverb with low frequencies sounds muddy. Only in some occasions you might want to use reverb on a bass as a creative effect.
Pro Tip: In the low frequencies of a mix there is almost always a battle between the kick and the bass. To keep the mix clean it can help to determine that only one of the two elements is allowed to have frequencies below 60Hz. It depends on your judgement of the song which element that is.
Also you can figure out on which frequencies the key tone of each element is, and cut a little away from those frequencies of the other element.
That concludes this episode of Our Essential Guide To Becoming A Music Mixing Professional series. You can comment and ask any questions below.
Next episode we continue with how to mix: synths, instruments, vocals, sound effects, reverbs, and delays.
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I am Tim van Doorne, it’s an honour to serve you. Stay motivated to improve your sound, every single day!