Author Topic: Mixing and Mastering  (Read 2375 times)


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Offline Vladimir Quinn

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Mixing and Mastering
« on: June 01, 2013, 07:41:23 AM »
There are pretty much 2 key roles to the product of music you end up listening to by the time you pop in the CD/throw your earbuds in/download from Amazon or whatever.

Nowadays, a lot of people can "self re-master" songs or albums on their own through the use of tools like Audacity.

This aspect is basically how the instruments sit.  Usually you will have separate stems (e.g. Low End Bass, High End Bass, Vocal Take 1, Vocal Take 2, Floor Toms, Kick Drum, etc.) as their own tracks.  The Mixer's role is to gather all of these individual tracks and parlay them together into a cohesive "final" mix.  Along with prettying up certain aspects of an instrument or vocal, the Mixer is the one that arguably sets the final volume of the vocal/instruments in the mix.  So if the kick drums are overriding everything in the mix or the vocals are too upfront, that generally lands on the shoulders of the Mixer.

This is also where instruments can get panned to the left or right channels or reverb is added to a guitar.  Remixes are basically what it says, somebody else doing their own mix using the original stems of the song and mixing them.

Great mixes usually require very little clean up in the mastering process.

The most underrated aspect.  He/She is the final hand in the actual track before it gets packaged, shipped, and sent out the door to land on somebody's doorstep.

This usually is where levels are done to songs so that they flow cohesively from one to the next on an album.  Also EQ (equalization) may done to slightly enhance a certain instrument or shine up a mix that might be too raw or radio unfriendly.

A re-master is basically taking the original mix and mastering it again on a different level.  This can work but it rarely gets pulled off very well.

Examples (of good and bad mixing/mastering)
Oasis - Wonderwall.  A really great song that has an unfortunate mix made worse by the mastering being too loud in general.  The vocals are in your face and tend to obscure the cello in the background (0:59 - 1:05).  The drums, in particular the kick/toms, seem to battle the guitar for background space around 1:40-2:00 as well.  It's hard to distinguish the actual guitar lines.  I'd make an argument that the cello manages to somehow evoke the feeling of the song without being that distuinguishable either.

Michael Jackson - Beat It.  One of the immediate things you can hear is the separation in the instruments, particular the hitting of the kick/toms in the opening 30 seconds preluding to the memorable riff of the bass guitar.  Even as Michael sings the chorus, you can hear the groove of the bass guitar underneath along with the cymbal crashes.  The best example of the great mix is how neatly the guitar solo sits starting at 2:55 while bass guitar & drums continue the song elements.

The Pixies - Gigantic.  A really interesting song as you can kind of see the "piece by piece" aspect of the final mastering, where and what to emphasize.  The emphasis of the bass in the introduction leads into the constant hi-hat sound and the vocals.  The mix kind of works in spite of itself due to the battle between the vocals, bass (starting around 0:50), and the kick drum in the background.  The vocals are pretty dry and one could make the argument that the chorus is intentionally muddied (aka too much going on to distinguish) for the vibe of the song.  It is similar to Wonderwall in that the poppy aspect of the song so thoroughly dominates that the muddyness kind of adds to its charm, take note of the guitar at 2:45.

Frank Sinatra - That's Life.  This is an interesting example of the hard panning of the 1940's/1950's/1960's era of production.  Frank's voice absolutely dominates the right channel with some of the drums (namely the kick) whereas the other instruments and backup vocals are mostly panned hard left.  Despite the panning, the instruments are largely background material outside of the kick but it largely works due to Frank's voice and charisma being outstanding.  Singers with big voices such as Mariah Carey would benefit more from this style of vocals dominating as opposed to the inverse.  That's largely why rock works better at pushing the vocals "into" the mix.

Atmosphere - Scapegoat.  Hip Hop and Rap are fun to listen to because at times, they are really basic.  A large percentage of the genre relies on the up front vocals, in part due to the rhyming talk style, and a deep hitting kick drum.  0:50 is a perfect example of the heavy kick drum effect.  It nearly overwhelms the rest of the  track.  The very soft piano(?) aspect of the song is intriguing but doesn't really get played up enough in the mix to matter much.

Other Instrument/Mix Examples to Seek
LL Cool J - I Can't Live Without My Radio. Just listen to the separation of the kick, cymbals, and toms.  Excellent use of separation and brief snatches of hand claps(!) and drums to create a groove itself.

Slayer - Angel of Death: Great example of kick drums/toms but especially lead guitar low end to accentuate the speed of the riff.  In particular, check out 1:48 for the balance of guitar/kick drum.

Britney Spears - Hit Me Baby One More Time: That kick drum, good lord.  The mix itself works incredibly well, take note of the subtle bass driving the groove while Britney's vocals take point but still allow enough air to let the other instruments stand out too.  A perfect example of how a mix can make a pop hit as much as the song itself.  There is a lot of little stuff going on and nothing seems overwhelmed.  Check out the brief piano appearance at 2:07 too.

Outkast - Rosa Parks: Another good example of the effective use of panning to channels.  A good use of hi-hats and toms and what sounds like very low end use of cello(?).  Take note of the female vocals at around the 3:49 mark.

Blind Melon - No Rain: A really effective blending of vocals, lead guitar, and bass guitar that is usually hard to accomplish, especially in the opening 0:30.  You can hear a slight panning between the lead and bass too.   The toms are a little buried starting at 2:00 but really, this song is all about the riffs so it's understandable.  An example of sacrificing an instrument to focus on the "meat" of the song.

Metallica - Master of Puppets: Take note of the "clean" lead guitar in the introduction and the somewhat muted bass in the background. The vocals are drenched in reverb too.  One of the more unique things is the reliance on the cymbals in the drum kit whilst keeping the drums in the background and pushing the vocals/lead guitar up front.  Take note of the bass dominating in the instrumental section too with the guitar accentuating it starting at 3:40.

Offline QaddafiWasMurdered

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #1 on: June 01, 2013, 02:23:26 PM »
Awesome stuff.

Offline Conspiracy Theorist

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2013, 04:51:22 AM »
You should post these on the site.

Not CWM's post, obviously. Maybe in the comments.

if i stop posting, you know they got me

Offline L'AZentat

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2013, 02:35:34 PM »
Great post, HQ.
Maybe the real deep state was the friends we made along the way.

Offline Vladimir Quinn

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2013, 06:44:12 AM »
Thanks to the Dynamic Range Database for RMS Levels.  Also note that these are from CDs unless otherwise noted.

What are RMS Levels?  RMS stands for Root Mean Square and is basically the average level of a song over a period of time.  So an RMS of -11dB means that the song's average level is 11 deciBels (dB) quieter than it can be at its loudest maximum.  The higher the RMS, the more dynamics a song has due to the headroom needed to reach 0dB.  Also the higher the RMS (12-13 vs 7-8), the more pleasing the sound to the human ear.

1979 - Michael Jackson - Off the Wall [Vinyl] = 17-19
1982 - Michael Jackson: Thriller = 17-19
1983 - Elton John: The Superior Sound of Elton John 1970-1975 = 17-19
1983 - Metallica: Kill 'Em All = 15-16
1983 - The Police: Synchronicity = 20-22
1983 - U2: War = 16-17
1984 - Madonna: Like A Virgin = 17-19
1986 - Metallica: Master of Puppets = 14-15
1986 - Slayer: Reign In Blood = 16-17
1986 - The Cure: Pornography = 14-15
1987 - Megadeth: Peace Sells... But Who's Buying? = 13-14
1987 - Michael Jackson: Bad = 16-17
1988 - Bad Brains: I Against I = 17-18
1988 - N.W.A.: Straight Outta Compton = 12-13
1988 - Tracy Chapman: Tracy Chapman = 17-18
1989 - Bad Religion: No Control = 13-14
1989 - Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine = 13-16
1989 - The Stone Roses: The Stone Roses = 14-16
1990 - Mariah Carey: Mariah Carey = 13-15
1991 - Nirvana: Nevermind = 12-13
1992 - Blind Melon: Soup = 12-13
1992 - Dr. Dre: The Chronic = 11-12
1994 - Blues Traveler: Four = 10-11
1994 - Green Day: Dookie = 9-10
1994 - Korn: Korn = 8-9
1994 - Oasis: Definitely Maybe = 6-7
1994 - The Offspring: Smash = 10-11
1995 - No Doubt: Tragic Kingdom = 8-9
1995 - Oasis: What's the Story (Morning Glory) = 5-6
1996 - Spice Girls: Spice = 9-10
1999 - Britney Spears: ...Baby One More Time = 8-9
1999 - TLC: FanMail = 8-9
2000 - Backstreet Boys: Black & Blue = 7-9
2000 - Linkin Park: Hybrid Theory = 7-8
2001 - Jimmy Eat World: Bleed American = 7-8
2002 - Christina Aguilera: Stripped = 7-9
2003 - Evanescence: Fallen = 7-8
2005 - Paramore: All We Know Is Falling = 6-7
2006 - Black Keys: Magic Potion = 10-11
2009 - The Black Eyed Peas: The E.N.D. = 7-9
2011 - Black Keys: El Camino = 6-7
2011 - Lil Wayne: Tha Carter IV = 6-7
2012 - Taylor Swift: Red = 8-9
2013 - Black Sabbath: 13 [Vinyl] = 13-14 (CD looks atrocious)
2013 - Fall Out Boy: Save Rock and Roll = 5-6
2013 - Iggy and The Stooges: Ready to Die = 5-6
2013 - Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience = 7-8
2013 - Kid Cudi: Indicud = 6-7
2013 - Rob Zombie: Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor = 5-6
2013 - Stereophonics: Graffiti on the Train = 7-8
2013 - Suede: Bloodsport = 6-7

Offline O.G.

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2013, 01:06:09 PM »
Very interesting how the RMS has consistently gone down over the years. I wonder if that's due to the compression of songs now with mp3's being more prevalent than CD's or records.

Great thread Harley.

Offline Perfxion

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #6 on: June 12, 2013, 09:44:28 PM »
It could be the highest listed for meant for vinyls, thus louder on CD when imported to that media. Since those would have been recorded to tracks.  The newest ones would be quieter due to them being recorded digitally for mp3s then imported to CDs. Digital age could get the effect they were looking for without having to get louder.

Offline Vladimir Quinn

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #7 on: June 13, 2013, 03:02:22 AM »
I hate to be "that guy" waveform wise but it's really mind boggling just how crunched some of this stuff gets because the music just does not need it.  It's universally accepted that some compression is a necessary evil but nowadays it's taken to such extremes.

With good music, the drums (kick/tom) should represent the highest peaks usually dependent on the track of course.  The bass guitar/lead guitar/vocals usually sit in the mix at lower levels.

Michael Jackson - 1987 CD Pressing vs 2012 Remaster In the top, you see a fairly solid sound.  It lulls, gets loud, lulls again slightly, etc.  The bottom you can see that the peaks are nearly the same after the intro and the tops are clipped (aka cut off like a lawnmower cut it).

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit - 1991 CD Release vs HD Tracks Remaster The original was a perfect blend of a heavy, LOUD, hard hitting rock sound fused with dynamic range.  You can see the verse getting a little quieter after the explosive introduction.  In the remaster, everything is loud so it's all loud and nothing stands out.  That's why people get "ear fatigue," because trying to separate Loud Noise A from Loud Noises B, C, & D gets tiring after 2 or 3 songs.

Oasis - Supersonic (Single Version vs CD Release) Again, note the massive differences in peaks alone.  While the single is loud, you can still see the barest of dips in between representing the spread instrumentation levels.  The bottom is awe-inspiring in that you can't get much more extreme/congested than that and not "peak" past the 0dB level.

Offline Vladimir Quinn

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2014, 01:16:15 AM »
Some more random fun... Hip Hop Style!

Ice Cube - It Was a Good Day - Take note of the separation between the bass guitar slightly above the drums and the emphasized vocals on top of everything (a common trait of hip hop is emphasizing the vocals the most for obvious reasons).

Beastie Boys - Fight For Your Right - An interesting song in that it's largely carried by the kick/toms on the drums but the "quiet" dropout right before the chorus really helped cement that memorability of the song itself.  Take note that even the guitar riff around 2:17 seems a bit buried due to the enormity of the drums.  I'd actually like to see this properly remastered sometime to emphasize the vocals and get a bit more instrumental separation.

N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton - Great example of a primo Hip Hop mastering. The vocals are raw and immediately in your face and that kick drum is strong but doesn't overwhelm the track in comparison to the Beastie Boys track. A great example of Hip Hop's minimalism working towards its favor.

Biggie Smalls - Juicy - A good example of the bass driving the song while the vocals are slightly pushed down to emphasize the actual groove of the song. Also take note of the separation of the bass, kick drum, and vocals allowing each to get space from one another.

Offline Vladimir Quinn

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2015, 10:55:23 AM »
Bumping this thread as I revised my EQ "frequency" settings for anybody whom wants to fool around in Audacity... I'll break it down by instrument as well to make things easier.  Just a reminder to cut 1-3 DB if you want some instrument separation.

Bass/Kick Drum
20 = Thump/Rumble
25 = Thump/Rumble
31 = Boxy
80/100/125 = Muffled
1250 = Attack

Snare Drum
40/50/63 = Thump
80/100/125 = Muffled
160/200 = Boxy
800 = Dry
1600 = Attack
6300 = 'Gloss'

Floor/Upper Toms
250/315 = Floor Toms Thump
400 = Upper Toms Thump
500 = Boxy Floor Toms
630 = Boxy Upper Toms
2000 = Attack Floor Toms
2500 = Attack Upper Toms
8000 = 'Gloss' Floor Toms
10000 = 'Gloss' Upper Toms

4000/5000 = Clack & Attack

Male Vocals
160 = Low End
200 = Low Mid
250 = Mid
315 = High Mid
400 = Low High
500 = Mid High
630 = Upper High
800 = Thin/Nasal Sound
1000 = Thin 'Telephone' Sound
6300 = Low Attack
8000 = Mid Attack
10000 = High Attack
12500/16000 = 'Gloss' & Sheen
20000 = Air/Breathy

Female Vocals
80 = Low End
100 = Low Mid
125 = Mid
160 = High Mid
200 = Low High
250 = Mid High
315 = Upper High
630 = Thin/Nasal Sound
800 = Thin 'Telephone' Sound
5000 = Low Attack
6300 = Mid Attack
8000 = High Attack
12500/16000 = 'Gloss' & Sheen
20000 = Air/Breathy

Bass Guitar
40 = Low End
50 = Low Mid
63 = Mid
80 = High Mid
100 = Low High
125 = Mid High
160 = Upper High
800 = Fuzzy Low
1000 = Fuzzy High
1250 = Clean Low
1600 = Clean High
3150 = Low Attack
4000 = Mid Attack
5000 = High Attack
10000/12500 = Plucking

Lead Electric Guitar
200 = Low End
250 = Low Mid
315 = Mid
400 = High Mid
500 = Low High
630 = Mid High
800 = Upper High
1250 = Fuzzy Low
1600 = Fuzzy High
2000 = Low Attack
2500 = Mid Attack
3150 = High Attack
16000/20000 = Plucking

Acoustic Guitar
125 = Low End
160 = Low Mid
200 = Mid
250 = High Mid
315 = Low High
400 = Mid High
500 = Upper High
1600 = Low Attack
2000 = Mid Attack
2500 = High Attack
6300/8000 = Plucking

315 = Low End
400 = Low Mid
500 = Mid
630 = High Mid
800 = Low High
1000 = Mid High
1250 = Upper High

Offline Vladimir Quinn

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #10 on: August 22, 2016, 09:10:20 AM »
Bumping this after a very interesting discovery.

So CDs/Music have peak levels, basically 0 dB with a lot of music riding right up to that or even past it to clipping levels. Ever wonder why songs typically sound better on TV or in Film and/or Dialogue is more pleasing?  That's because they are different sound levels.

Most Television levels usually sit between -18 and -22 dB. If you've ever ripped audio from a TV Show, you'll usually find this level in Audacity/Adobe Audition or another tool you use. Some stations in America say that you cannot peak above -12 (or -10) dB level wise. You may notice the LUFS at the bottom left, the slowly integrating TV Standard is -23 LUFS (essentially loudness level).

Here's some examples I used to showcase this. Take note of the Total RMS (explanation of what it is in post above). Note: Some of these peak much higher than they should, which I blame on ripping tools/playback alterations.

Are You Afraid of the Dark: The Tale of the Hatching Mono - Television Show

iCarly: iMightSwitchSchools Stereo - Television Show .... Peaked at -7, changed down to -10 Peak for better comparison

My Little Pony: A Hearth's Warming Tale Stereo - Cartoon .... Taken off Youtube from TV. Peaked at -11

Teen Titans: Switched Stereo - Cartoon .... Peaked at -3, changed down to -10 Peak for better comparison

What I discovered was if you take a song and shrink it down to roughly the same overall -16 to -20 levels as the above TV Shows (say peaking at -15 to -17 dB), suddenly they are not only pleasing (duh) but you can make out a ton of little detail including instrument separation, the bass and how deep/thumpy it is, etc.

Next time you're listening to a song through Audacity, try that out. Lemme know if you "pick up" on more within the song from a mixing/mastering aspect.

Offline Vladimir Quinn

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Re: Mixing and Mastering
« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2017, 09:49:50 AM »
Taking a look at several popular songs from the 1990s/2000s to see what made them stand out so much. Tried to go for a wide variety to showcase how music can make a hit song in a variety of different ways.

Backstreet Boys - Larger Than Life

A lot of the 90s 'teen' pop stuff largely rode a simple Bass Guitar/Kick Drum/Toms attack that helped give it that dance R&B lite feel. Take note of the underlying groove of the bass around the 1:20 mark. It's interesting that the vocals here are actually fairly balanced within the mix and not that overpowering on the track itself. Really this track is all about the catchy chorus and the repetitive bass/drums drive underneath it.

Primus - My Name is Mud

A really great little mix/mastering job. The separation is immediate and the panning of the toms is apparent. The vocals kind of take a backseat to the instrumentation but the drums are really dry/sparse which fits the mood of the song and gives it a weird, off-kilter vibe too reflecting the lyrics. The bass is effective nearly mirroring/being in tandem with the drums so that the lead guitar interludes hit outta nowhere and standout more.

Limp Bizkit - Nookie

Take note of that bass lick, great subtle hook driving this thing. Also note the echo off the kick drum and take note of the chorus at the 1:20 mark and how the guitar/cymbals suddenly appear than immediately vanish back to that bass hook when the verse kicks back in. Great stuff from a mixing perspective.

Shania Twain - Man! I Feel Like a Woman

That opening little piano bit is iconic. The song expertly introduces the guitar right into the kick drum and finally the freewheeling of the vocals effectively stacking each on the former. Fantastic way of 'building' up right out of the gate. It's also a great throwback to the 50's/60's where the guitar/vocals tended to be pushed forward while the drums were buried a little. The cutout of everything when she says the song title & then that piano bit, sublime.

If you wanna know how to make an iconic pop song, just listen to this thing and the little details it does.

Faith Hill - Breathe

Like a lot of Country music in the 1990s, the mastering of the guitars are largely the genre's forefront. Take note of the fingering/twanging of the strings for this song and it's a perfect encapsulation. Most interesting is how forcefully pushed forward the vocals are on the chorus starting at 1:15. The kick drum slides back to a bit of a guitar riff and then re-emerges a bit later. This is an interesting take because the strength of this is 90% the vocals combined with the lazily vibe of the buried bass and drums with a heavy emphasis on the lead guitar which doesn't really have a memorable hook either.

2Pac feat Dr. Dre - California Love

That opening coupled with the repeated kick/toms combo and the bass guitar groove. A perfect use of sound/samples in hip hop here, take note of the chimes ringing at the start of the song too. Even as Dre and 2Pac rap over it, that combo of the guitar/drum is extraordinary in that you can't help but bob your head to the beat of it. Sterling stuff. Take note of the slight panning of sounds around the 1:18 mark too. There's so much going on noise sample wise, take out the vocals and you could probably still have a Top 10 hit here. That's how good the music/beat is. The vocals are raw and 2Pac's actually seem pushed forward slightly in comparison to Dre, nice little touch there.

Blues Traveler - Run-Around

All about the hook of that bass guitar in the initial opening. The transition into the clacking on the hi-hats and harmonica is seamless too. This is interesting because the vocals stand out just enough but this is all about the hook and even the lead guitar seems a little buried. The 'hard rock' transition seems subdued around the 2:00 mark and much like the Michael Jackson example in a prior post, the mixing does a great job in pushing the harmonica as the lead in the solo at 2:40 but keeps the other instruments well up as well.