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John David Ross

Mixing and Mastering Suggestions for Plugins or Tutorials

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Does anyone use any plugins that have decent presets for vocals, instruments, etc...? I struggle with producing decent sounding demos when mixing and mastering individual tracks and then eventually mastering the final cut. I was just hoping to find a good plugin to help me. I'm also trying to learn a little more as I go along but there aren't a lot of Youtube resources for the current Cakewalk. Most everything I find is for SONAR. 

Thanks for any help!

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15 hours ago, John David Ross said:

I struggle with producing decent sounding demos when mixing and mastering individual tracks and then eventually mastering the final cut.

Never master individual tracks. Mastering is done after you are  done mixing and its only done to the stereo mix or dual mix.

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Does anyone use any plugins that have decent presets for vocals, instruments, etc..

Do not put your stock into plugin presets. There are never a one setting fits all for any kind of instrument, including vocals.  Presets were made by someone who doesn't have your tracks and doesn't know the sound of your tracks and doesn't know the sound you want for your tracks.  Also, Often presets are overly exaggerated to show off the plugin as well. 

Examples of why one setting doesn't work :

1.) Lets you you record the same vocals in 2 different rooms. Your vocal will sound different in each room. So how in the world would the same preset for an EQ or reverb work?? It wont...

2.) Lets say you have the same  identical vocal tracks for 2 different mixes. That same vocal track will sound different in each mix its in, ev en though its the same identical vocal track. This is because all the other instrument effects how the vocal is heard. So how would the same preset work for that? It wont...

You should learn what each knob and setting does, this way you can dial in the sounds exactly how you want, by knowing how each knob and setting works and does.

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I was just hoping to find a good plugin to help me.

The same theory i explained above goes for this also. Some vocals and instruments just need EQ and Reverb. Some just need a compressor and EQ, Some need a lot more.

Every vocal in a mix will need different things depending on hundreds of variables. Just learnt the effects and the settings on each effect , then dial in the sounds you want. Its easy, after you learn your tools. Learning is the hard part, but its a necessity, if you want to dial in the sounds you want.

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^^^ This. It's a hard pill to swallow, but everybody has to eventually accept that presets are just for synthesizers - not for track fx or mastering. Even if you have, say, a favorite reverb preset it will almost always need to be tweaked to fit the need. 

The path to mixing and mastering nirvana is learning how plugins work. Lots of study, trial and error, and in the case of mastering, objective measurements. Sorry, there's no viable shortcut to the process. Limit the number of plugins you use: one EQ, one compressor, one reverb, and then learn everything you can about them.

The good news is that most online tutorials are applicable to any DAW, as the principles are the same for all. No need to search out Cakewalk-specific tutorials, unless you're looking for advice on plugin that's specific to Cakewalk such as the Sonitus suite. There are a great many folks posting YouTube videos on the subject, from home recording enthusiasts to professional engineers to music software vendors such as iZotope.

You don't need to use a vendor's products to get value from their instructional videos, because again, the principles are universal. Just don't get sucked into the advertising message that you need those products to make a good mix. You really don't.

 

 

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Think of a plugin as a tool you use to do to the sound what you think it needs.  I am often amazed at how many plugins a person will use in a project.  Unless you have a real issue to work on and you can define it then by all means use a plugin if not don't. Many things can be done with a little EQ and perhaps compression used with care. There is no reason to throw plugins at a mix hoping somehow it will sound better.  Know what you want then figure out how to achieve  it.  This often means listening very carefully to the mix as is and individual tracks soloed.  Add as little reverb as you can get away with. 

As a real help listen to songs that you believe are mixed well.  Listen closely. Use the best gear you can for listening. Try to identify how they got the sound you hear.  Question the song and then question your own song. 

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Often less is more and agreed, that you should stay away from 'mastering a track'.  That would only apply to a spoken word (book reading, podcast, etc.) type of thing with only one person.

As others have mentioned, get the track mix to sound the best using some of only the basic things, eq, compression, some basic plugin (guitar cabs, etc.)., then start working to me it shine.  That typically doesn't require a lot of things if the mix is done well in the beginning.

I have stripped some tunes of every plugin and started over a few times.  (I should have done that more in the past 😉

Good luck!

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Welcome to the crazy world of mixing music, where every plugin company says that with just $47, you will sound like the pros.

Save your money. 

I've got some questions for you.

  1. What kind of music are you working on?
  2. What type of productions do you like the most?
  3. Who  is your favorite producer/mixer?
  4. What album do you really like the sound of and why?

Mixing a very subjective process. There are "good" and "bad" mixes in the objective sense when we talk about kick and bass balance, but that is also genre specific. My advice would be to answer those questions for yourself, and then reverse-engineer it with questions like:

  • How did the producer get the kick drum/bass relationship right?
  • How did the producer ensure there was  room for the vocals but the guitars still sound huge?
  • What kind of effects  are being used on vocals?
  • Lots of compression or not really?
  • Really loud? (Like -4RMS?)

Find videos (if there are any) about your favorite productions and how they were produced. If you can't find any, find videos with like sounding results and learn the process of how it was made.

You are making the mistake that all people make when they first start, in that you believe it's simply a matter of numbers and presets. If I just do X by -3dB and load Preset 345, everything is going to be great.

It's just not like that - music is a living and breathing entity and you can record the same guitar riff 5 times and you will have 5 completely unique files that, depending on how well (or not so well) the performance was, could call for totally different processing needs.

I wish I, and all of us here, could just give you a simple answer that was like, "Yeah, go buy Joe Blow's "24 hours to not sucking at mixing" for $19.99 and you'll be all set."

If you're recording rock, check out Graham from Recording Revolution. He does great content about getting started with mixing and is solidly in the rock/contemporary rock genres.

If you're recording metal, you can watch my videos. I have a full A-to-Z mixing series where you can also download the stems and follow along.

If you're recording jazz or other genres, I have no idea because I don't pay attention to it.

Anyway man... take it slow, baby steps, just don't give up.

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^^^ Scott is underselling himself here...I've seen a couple of his tutorials and not only are they well done, the lessons are applicable to many genres, not just metal. They might be a little more advanced than what the OP is looking for, though.

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First, plug about 4" of Owens Corning  703 in each corner:

https://sonicscoop.com/2016/11/10/diy-studio-design-part-2-build-cost-effective-bass-traps/

 

Then, get some good monitors.

 

Then, focus on getting the sound you want right there in the room first.  If you get it right going into the microphone instead of relying on technology to fix it for you, then the tune practically mixes itself.  Anything you put on it is just icing.  Or ruins it.

 

Conversely,  if you record crap, no plugin in the world will fix it.  No matter how much gold plating you put on a turd,  it's still a pile of $**t.

In other words,  you can't buy skill at Plugin Boutique. 

 

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On 10/28/2019 at 8:14 AM, Byron Dickens said:

... you can't buy skill at Plugin Boutique. 

 

Are you sure about that? I've got 20 years' worth of advertising that says otherwise.

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The same band playing the same songs recorded with the same mics can be pretty predictable. If that isn't most of us, I'd be surprised. I'm not saying that you only record one band but that you get practiced with the bands you record. You know which instruments the band likes to favor in the mix. You know how much sub bass they like.

This is the whole reason for templates. I have templates only useful for certain gatherings.

Additionally, different engineers dial in plugins differently. Some always approach compression with the attack release ratio threshold pattern. Some always use certain plugins on the master. Some always align the tracks to minimize phase issues. Some work dc offset. We all have our patterns. 

The local bands probably get to know us engineers and what our mixes come out like and they take favorites.

All this is not to say you should use presets. Instead I'm saying that to the band you kinda are the preset. 😁

All of us have short cuts too. We all don't know tons. We all make our way as efficiently as we can learning how we learn, practicing when we get the chance.

Don't get hung up. Try presets as a way to get close to what you like then zero in. As Craig says, you can't breakanything. And Remember to have some fun along the way.

** Also, don't be afraid to learn that your tastes aren't THE tastes. Stretch yourself. My taste had definitely evolved over the decades. What i thought was awesome in 1980 or 1990 is not what i would choose to listen to today except as nostalgia. My friends have helped me evolve with mix feedback. By pushing me to remix and remix i find new vibes and appreciate them as heart changing.

Edited by Gswitz

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A good mix comes from an OK room and access to a pro listing environment helps.  You can’t fix what you can’t hear.  Corning or rock wool are your friends and a cheap date to boot.   Personally, I’ve got a pair of great speakers I’ve had for 30 years and know them well, but I still take home brewed recordings to a pro studio to check the bass, etc. 

spend time and thought on the song’s arrangement.  The space in songs is important, as well as introducing new “elements” and instruments sequentially.  Many musicians  coming from bands have a hard time hearing the song as a recording artifact instead of live.  One young band freaked out when I suggested playing a second rhythm guitar since they couldn’t play it that way live.  This stuff happens esp. with cover songs.

another thing is to buy a nice signal chain.  Once that problem isn’t there and you can’t blame the tools anymore, you have to concentrate on your technique.

lastly, it takes time.  You didn’t learn to drive in a day or play an instrument in a. Hour.  Recording is a skill.  And if you are trying to record yourself it is harder.  Even having a gofer around to bounce ideas off of, move the mics and asking a 3rd person which sounds better develops your ear for this stuff.  The old studio system put one into a situation where you learned with those who had ears already as well as decent equipment (usually).  Once you learned the basic bag of tricks and your associates’ tastes, you could adapt them to your own style.  But it still took time.  In the meanwhile, it is easy to do horrendous mixes and have no idea why.  Don’t let that stop you.

@

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And some practical advice.  If you are recording acoustic instruments, a high pass filter is the one piece of software you need first.  Don’t “master “ (wrong term, to master means polish a finished recording for publishing) individual tracks just solo the track, enable your high pass and slowly expunge the muck below 60 HZ or 100 HS or 150; depending on the instrument.  Like most sonic adjustments, go extreme so you can hear the difference, then back off until you can’t hear it unless you punch the filter out.  You can be surprised how well this can work and how much noise and useless air you can remove and add back space between the sounds.  That will clean up tracks individually and make your entire song more open.

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This is an excellent opportunity to plug my book, How to Create Compelling Mixes :)  It has been very well-received, and the basis of all the workshops/personal appearances I'm doing this year. If you're in the Boston area, I'm doing a seminar on mixing at Parson's Audio on November 15.

Okay, back to our regular programming. The whole topic is very subjective but I make a distinction between mixing and mastering. To me, mixing is about achieving the best possible balance of all tracks, without any processors in the master bus. Mastering is about taking that final mix,  making the changes in EQ and dynamics that really make it shine, and mastering to a consistent LUFS reading. I've mastered hundreds of tracks over the years, and ALWAYS ask clients to refrain from mixing with any processors in the master bus. 

Another difference is that mastering requires very subtle changes. For example, you can put +6 dB of an EQ boost on a track and get away with it. But with a master, you are essentially adding +6 dB to every track. EQ changes of half a dB are common, and make a difference.

As to presets, I agree with the sentiment here that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. However, you will find over time that some frequencies get played with more regularly than others. For example, dipping a bit around 300 to 400 Hz on a master often helps "clean up" a mix. But the exact amount, the exact frequency, and the bandwidth will differ for different songs - assuming the dip is even necessary.

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25 minutes ago, Craig Anderton said:

If you're in the Boston area, I'm doing a seminar on mixing at Parson's Audio on November 15.

Parsons Audio Wellesley, MA ? I'll try to catch you there.

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22 hours ago, InstrEd said:

@Craig Anderton  will you be coming to Chicago-land area?

The closest I come to Chicago is during June, when I do workshops at GearFest in Fort Wayne, IN, and Between the Waves, in Madison, WI. But there's nothing planned specifically for Chicago, sorry.

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6 minutes ago, Craig Anderton said:

The closest I come to Chicago is during June, when I do workshops at GearFest in Fort Wayne, IN, and Between the Waves, in Madison, WI. But there's nothing planned specifically for Chicago, sorry.

 Reason to finally make it up to Gearfest :D

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