Welcome to Production Music Live. My name is Guido - I’m a mixing and mastering engineer and today we're going to be talking about 11 mixing tips for Ableton 11.
They’re in no particular order and it's coming from a mixing perspective. It’s for when you’ve finished your production and you're like “Okay, I need to mix my track - how am I going to do that, and what are the tools to begin with?”
Here's tip number one:
1. All the tools that you need are over in the Audio Effects tab.
Luckily enough, Ableton has already put the effects in a really nice little mapped folder. In ableton 10 and 9, you had just this massive list of all plugins.
You might have been asking “What am I supposed to do with this? - I don't really understand.”
Now you can go: “Well, I've listened back to my song and I feel that my kick drum is a little bit too boomy - how am I going to take care of that?”
Through the new folder structure of audio effects, Ableton has now given you a quick little answer to every single problem that you might have.
2. Listen to your song and write down the problems that you notice.
Before you start diving into the audio effects tab, what I want you to do is get a pen and paper, or open Textedit or Notepad. Listen back to your whole song and write down all the little problems that you might have with your track.
For example: “At bar 93 a snare drum comes in and it doesn't sit in the mix”.
Write those things down and then from there you're gonna get solutions which you can then apply.
Now, obviously if you're a bit more of a beginner then you don't know these solutions. So what we're gonna do today for all the next tips (3-11) is go through some of the stock audio effects. I'm gonna give you some really common things that you might find after you've listened to your song and you've compared it to a reference song for instance.
By now you already have a frustration list of why your mix is annoying and not working.
The first thing that might be on your frustration list is “my low end sucks”.
3. How to fix your Low End in the track really fast
Here’s a potential quick fix for your low end, other than processing the bass track itself. It might actually be beneficial for your bass to do some compression on the master track.
You can take the Glue Compressor (has less options than the Compressor, which means it’s harder to screw up your mix) and do some gentle compression in the EQ mode (set to bandpass, frequency matching the fundamental of the kickdrum).
That way you’ll do some subtle ducking when the kick hits. It might not only sound good for your bass, but also could introduce some nicer dynamics to your overall high end - because here we’re compressing the entire signal of the track.
You might also try this on your high end - for example taking the Compressor effect and bandpassing the EQ mode at around 8 kHz with an infinite ratio - then we would be limiting the signal when the high end has its peaks. That should result in a smoother top end.
4. The Color Limiter
You already have something called the Color Limiter - which is really, really nice. If you're listening overall to your track and you're feeling like you could use a little bit of volume, you can use the color compressor to add some loudness.
It allows you to add some volume and “color” saturation as well.
It's a really nice little saturation thing to have and it actually sounds pleasant. With the Color control, if you go up from 0.5, it’s going to be more “top end” focused. If you go down from 0.5, it's going to be more “low end” focused.
It's also a really fast shelving type eq to tweak your overall mix. With this effect you get loudness, better tonal balance and a beautiful, saturated, warm type of feeling on the track.
Let's go into tip number five:
5. Really advanced sidechaining
For some advanced sidechain, you can use an Envelope Follower with an EQ.
This way you won’t have that “pumping” effect.
You need to put the Envelope Follower onto the kick drum, because we're going to be sidechaining the low end to it.
Then we're going to take an EQ Eight and put that onto the bass.
Then we're going to modulate a bell curve at the fundamental of the kick, so that every single time the kick drum hits, it goes down and back up accordingly.
What do we need to do is we need to take the gain knob and turn that up and down - so we need to “Map” the Envelope Follower to the Gain of the bell curve.
By now the Envelope Follower will boost instead of ducking the frequencies, so the ranges in the effect need to be set to 50% and 0%.
Now, every single time i need space in that kick drum area it gets taken care of.
Remember - with Envelope Followers you can do a lot more - you can use it for vocals, keys, arpeggiators and much more.
6. Adding rhythmic effects with Spectral Time and Grain Delay
Open up a return track, let’s drag in Grain Delay, and let's also open up the Spectral Time.
Now the cool thing about Ableton is that they have a lot of flavors of delay.
I really really like that specifically now with the Spectral Time.
Let's add in some feedback, some stereo information, add in the mix (full dry/wet), adjust the resolution…
There’s a million ways you can set this up - and it works great in conjunction with the Grain Delay.
Now you can also sidechain this signal and clean it up with an EQ to make this useful and professional sounding in your mix.
See the full video tutorial at 11:00 for detailed signal flow here.
7. What to do if you’re lacking a bit of Top End
You might try adding the Overdrive effect onto a return track, selecting the high frequencies on the effect, and sending some tracks onto it. You’ll often find that this way it will bring your track to life.
Once you have it set up, bring the volume of the return track all the way down and bring it up until it feels like enough.
8. Quick Reverb Tip
If you find things that are too forward in the mix, it's okay to splash reverbs around.
But first, how do you know if something is too forward in the mix?
If you're listening to your song and you reference it to another, and in that song it just seems like the the vocal is really sitting much better in the mix - that means that the reverb isn't set up correct in your mix. That causes things to be really popping out in front, when you can push them back into the mix.
You need to set the Dry/Wet control of a reverb correctly.
It doesn't really matter which reverb right now - it's about the concept. You need to see the dry/wet control as a knob that can push something towards the back of the mix if something is too forward.
9. How to give your song a specific vibe using Reverb
If there seems to be some sort of lacking overall glue - then this old trick is for you.
You can use a “reverb overall”.
Here it’s really cool to try out the new hybrid reverbs, because then you can start adding in a sort of space.
When you listen to your song, you need to ask yourself where this song would take place.
It's okay to use even a 20 second decay time here - you need to find the vibe that works for you and that vibe then completely makes everything sound nice and sexy together.
Hi-hats annoy me sometimes - because people sometimes very harshly highpass their hihats, and then you only have 10 kHz playing back.
That's so weird!
What you can do to kind of make the sound softer and nicer and to introduce artificial frequencies down in the frequency spectrum is use something called a vocoder.
Let’s add that in:
All of a sudden from a hi-hat you'll see a little bit of low end coming in.
Take away the top end with the built in band editor in Vocoder.
Now that's going to translate better than a very bright hi-hat without a body.
Trap hi-hats, Trapstep hi-hats tend to sound like this. You need some weight as well!
11. Harmonics and Driving
The whole section of “Drive and Color” in Live’s Audio Effects is really great. They all have different types of flavors and different types of sexiness to them.
So what are harmonics and when do you need them?
If you have a sound that is not coming across right, for an example if you have a bass that’s just a sub, it's nothing interesting - because not everybody will have this beautiful sub bass playing back in their headphones or their speakers.
I'd suggest a little bit of saturation then.
Now the cool thing is there is so much color to choose from and all these saturators will introduce harmonics on top.
I highly suggest you just try out Dynamic Tube or try out a Cabinet try the Drum Buss - see how they sound and how they feel for you - on sounds that are very low and heavy and do not have almost anything going on in the mid range.
Bonus Tip: Break Rules!
There are two types of mixing:
(1) You might be mixing like a janitor - where you clean everything up and you strip away the soul from your track.
(2) You also have mixing like you have never heard any music before - where you break every single rule there is to break.
I highly suggest that you do a clean mix and then after that find an element in your track where you go: “That's the one where I'm gonna break every single rule”. You can distort Reverb with a Redux, take a lead and pan it completely to the left, do all these strange things that you wouldn’t normally.
On the emotional level of mixing, where you break all the rules, this is where you can make or break your song really fast.
I suggest you break the rules there and have a fantastic time.
Thanks for checking out this article!
I hope you found something useful in this list.