by Elijah Kuttikhen – professional Audio Engineer, EKmixmaster.com online mixing and mastering studio owner, tutor.
Somebody of the great personalities said: “Record like there is no mixing, mix like there is no mastering.” To my mind, it’s impossible to say more precisely!
In this article, I’m trying to give some tips to bedroom producers on what they should do and how they shouldn’t approach the process of composing in order to achieve an ideal track sound already from an early stage. And what I’d like to start with is the order of instruments addition to the arrangement. Many years of my personal experience in audio post production field prove that work sequence with instrumental tracks has a phenomenal impact on plugins and techniques selection and ultimately on the sound of a finished song.
The same concerns arrangement – the producer inevitably gives full attention to the instruments which are added first by giving them much richer sound and the maximum space of the mix. The sounds added at later stages will be adjusted so that they will be able to fit in with the place left without conflicting with previous ones.
Put vocals the very first as exactly it will be the star of the track!
Remember to apply a High Pass filter in the region of 80 Hz to clean up an unnecessary Sub Lows element. If you have an idea of accompaniment – the keys or guitars – you can also add them, but get ready that you will have to tweak them – pitch, chord inversions, timbre etc. – in the final version.
Kick goes the next in 90% of cases.
It’s an absolute requirement for most electronic songs and works great in acoustic music as well. Regard to the selection of Kick samples attentively and try to achieve the necessary tone and character. If your kick “doesn’t work” with vocals and the keys, there aren’t any finesses of the sound engineer to correct the situation. Important: In electronic music, kick often has the sound based on sine waveform as the “body”. Its pitch as a rule has to coincide with root note of your song tonality. Otherwise, the kick won’t just suit.
Afterwards you should add Snare drum (or Clap).
Exactly they along with the kick and vocals will occupy the foreground of the mix. This trio must “work” from the very beginning. If the clap is too fine or, conversely, too much massive, too sharp and conflicts with vocals, replace it at once. Forget about “the sound engineer will patch all up”. It has never brought good results. Any equalization, compression and saturation of a poorly selected sample are the way of compromises with a moderate result.
Now you can seriously set about the final development of keyboard instruments.
It’s entirely possible that the initially picked up timbre won’t work well enough with the drums samples you already have. You have either to replace it or to fall back on layering technique in order to add missing characteristics. Here, the order requirement is also obeyed; chords will most likely be added the first. They play the role of harmonic support of the song. After them synthesized arpeggio are added (if they have been planned), and last of all Pads will be placed. Their role is in gluing keyboard instruments together and creating a soft base for them.
Depending on the idea, it’s possible to filter it out quite hard and place it on the background (to enhance the distance effect, apply the reverb of Room type by setting up the parameter Wet/Dry in the range of 50–100%) or, on the contrary, fill the space between Kick and Snare.
Bass is added last what will influence on the choice of its timbre.
Take into account that there is already quite a solid element in the song. It’s the kick that contains a lot of Sub Low harmonics. Here, you come across two solutions – either to split the bass and the kick over time with sidechain or to pick up the timbre more focused in Low Mids area so that it and the “body” of the kick won’t overlap.
I’d like to give special consideration to spatial processing. Keep in mind the axiom – while adding reverb or delay to the track, you add not only an effect but another first-class instrument that needs its own space either. And if, let’s say, the vocal is supposed to have splendid reverberation, you’d rather apply it at once. The stock reverberator of your DAW has plenty presets to select an appropriate one. And let it be only an outline with a view to a detailed processing by a professional engineer, the availability of reverberation will at once set the right mood to music and allow you to avoid mistakes during the selection of the next sounds.
It’s sure enough that everything I have said isn’t a rule to strictly follow since music is too multifaceted to fit all possible versions in one article. But these recommendations will allow you to focus more exactly on creativity than on overcoming technical difficulties.