Lesson 5

Lesson aims

  • Understand the difference between a multitrack recording and a mixed demo
  • Identify the elements of a mix (proximity, volume, stereo placement, spectral character and spatial depth)
  • Acquire familiarity with the basic sound-processing controls in Songzap’s Mixer page
  • Consider the impact of mixing processes on a finalised song
  • Shape the sound of a recorded multitrack by manipulating basic sound-processing controls

Exploring Songzap’s Mixer page

Songzap’s Mixer is simple and intuitive, enabling musicians to acquire familiarity with the basic concepts and tools of balance mixing, stereo imaging, dynamic control and effects processing. It features a basic mode (with volume faders, pan controls and reverb) and a more advanced mode (with additional low and high EQ, as well as compression controls), allowing for powerful shaping of the recorded tracks and programmed instrumental (drum/bass/pad) sounds used as part of a song’s production.

Below is a list of items and suggested steps that can help introduce these concepts and support you while you experiment with the respective mixer controls:

  • The volume Faders – level balance
  • Solo a track by tapping on the track name
  • The Pan controls – stereo image (left and right) 
  • Reverb controls – ambience, depth and distance
  • Don’t forget to tap the Education Mode button and check out the map of Mixer controls (plus links to web and video tutorials)

  • The Advanced Mixer controls: Compression and Equalisation (EQ)
  • What is compression (and what does it achieve)?
  • What is equalisation (and what does it achieve)?
  • Change the demo effects and settings
  • Revert to the demo mix
  • Any thoughts?

Elements of a mix

Now let’s take a look at the mixing choices FET 47 made for their demo, “Ready To Go” (which is included with Songzap). Mix deconstruction is invaluable and especially facilitated when listeners have access to the actual tools, recordings and mix environment used by the artists themselves (or their production team). Reverse-engineering a demo can teach you a lot about how the sonic/processing choices made reflect the lyrics, structure, instrumentation and the overall feeling envisioned by the artist(s); but also how these processes enhance and best represent the elements put together that comprise the song. The following list of questions can be used to direct your attention to key mixing choices actioned for the included demo, which you can later draw on when mixing you own song:

  • What effects are used on Rob’s voice?
  • His guitars or the piano?
  • Which kit is used, what elements of percussion, where are they panned, do they feature any effects (e.g. reverb) and on which elements?
  • Is there any compression on Rob’s voice, the guitars, bass, keys or any of the percussion elements?

  • Are there different amounts of reverb on different elements? What does this achieve (does the bass feel ‘in your face’ while the keys feel farther away; does Rob sound ‘epic’)?
  • Is there any equalisation (EQ) on Rob’s voice, his guitars, the bass, keys or the drums? What does this achieve?
  • Does the EQ separate instruments, blend them, extend and expand the sound (spectrum) of the demo?

Putting it all together, begin to mix the song you structured and recorded during Lesson 4. Think about each step in the mixdown process, paying particular attention to the following aspects: workflow, gain-staging considerations and the most efficient order of events during the process. The following list of steps can be used as a guide in the activity (instrumentation references used as an example – yours may be different):

  • Bring all the volume faders down and start from scratch (many pro mixers start with the drums…)
  • Bring up the kick, then snare, and make sure you allow enough “headroom” by reviewing the output meters
  • Bring up the hi-hat, ride or tom; then the bass and/or 1st guitar
  • Match the bass and/or 1st guitar to taste, against the kick and/or drums (imagine a band on stage)
  • Bring up the 2nd guitar and/or piano and match its level to the 1st guitar…

  • …Is it a counter part or double? (this may affect whether you want to pan the two guitars left and right)
  • What about any vocals? Place them in the mix by bringing up the corresponding volume fader
  • Do they feel ‘outside’ the mix when you bring them to a level that makes the lyrics intelligible? What else can we do?
  • Tap the Advanced Mixer button and compress and EQ them (a way to keep them ‘inside’ the mix but ensuring they remain powerful and cutting through)
  • Can this be done for other elements?

  • When adding reverb, we are giving sounds size and depth
  • Can we also ‘group’ certain elements in a spatial sense, like they are inhabiting shared imaginary spaces? (mixers call this – spatial – glue)
  • Review your output meters while adjusting all elements and effects
  • Take a break
  • Don’t listen too loud (protect your ears)…
  • …Play on headphones / play on a Bluetooth speaker
  • Export your mix/demo mp3