Cubase Pro Mixdown – Part 1: faders

23 05 2012

OK, in the previous tutorials we have recorded the basic audio tracks. Now, it is time to do some mixing. That’s what we’re here for, that’s what we do, brother. Mixing the song in Cubase, that is our mission. Are you ready?

During the mixing phase you try to blend everything together so that the whole song sounds like a unity, rather than many individual tracks that don’t really belong together. For most people this is harder than it sounds. I often have to remind myself of the fact, that not everyone is a seasoned pro with years of experience under his belt. It is easy to forget sometimes that most people have no clue as to how mixing is done correctly. Some people have a hard time learning even the most basic mixing skills. They struggle to get a grasp, but to no avail. These people will never make it to the top!

First of all, we have to set the faders just right. The faders are sliders that serve as the volume control FOR EACH INDIVIDUAL TRACK! Are you with me? If you move a fader, the volume of the track that the fader is pointing to will go up or down, depending on the direction you move the fader. Up means louder and down means the opposite.

Example:
You have just imported a drum loop and recorded a bass guitar. Upon listening to the tracks you find that you can barely hear the drums. The volume is too low. Now you have two options, or actually three options: you can either grab the fader of the drum track and move it up, or you could grab the fader of the bass track and move it down. The third option would be a compromise, kind of a best-of-both-worlds approach. You can both move the fader for the drum track up and the fader for the bass track down, but not as much as you would have if you had only adjusted one fader. That’s an absolute pro-tip right here. But you should be careful. If you overdo it, you can end with the drum track being way too loud and the bass track being inaudible.You would then have to reverse the fader positions and start all over again. You would be back to square one!

 

There are other ways to make something louder as well. With a compressor for example you can raise the average loudness of a track considerably. Many youngsters this approach, but they fail. Because it is easy to fire up a compressor and turn a couple of knobs. But it is much harder to do it correctly. Check out my compressor tutorial for the no-frills approach to using the compressor correctly.

My mentor, legendary recording engineer Herb Bjornsen, once told me: ‘a recording engineer rides the faders, and he rides ’em hard!’ I learned this leson very well. When people came to my studio and saw the faders of my Neve console they could barely contain themselves. The faders showed the signs of years of hard labour. They told a story. Each fader was like a person – with it’s own history. That’s something you can’t get with digital sequencers like Cubase or Pro Tools. Or any other software for that matter. The experience of touching a knob, gripping it so hard that your knuckles show, and then start riding that thing like it was never ridden before!

A software will always be the same. No matter how often you change the levels, the fader will never look any different that it did when you first installed the host software.

See you…

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Finding the right plugin for the job (Part 2)

17 05 2012

Let’s say you have recorded the first track and you are pretty proud of yourself. You listen to your recording and the first impression is kind of OK.

Then you will start to listen to the recording again. And again. You will listen to it over and over and over, because, let’s not kid ourselves here, you’re not a pro. You’re a beginner. And that’s what beginners do. Your brain needs time to adapt and comprehend all the information given in this tutorial series.

After you have listened to your recording in Cubase for some time, you will notice a slight difference between you recording and your favorite commercial recordings. But..wait a minute. WAAAIT A MINUTE!!! What did I say here? Yes, you are correct, you should always compare your recordings to another recording which you choose as a reference. This reference recording should be made by a true recording pro. Do not try to get away with less. In order to drag yourself out of the mud, you have to mess with the best. Or you will die like the rest!

So now that you compare your recording to a pro recording you will probably find, that your recording is lacking a certain something. You might not yet have the words to describe what it is exactly that your track does not have, but you feel that there is something slightly off. A little itching in the back of your mind tells your, that there might be something missing here.

That something are effects!

Effects are necessary for a professional music production today. You will simply not find any commercial production these days that doesn’t use at least SOME effects. Even if you’re not able to hear them. Your ears are not yet accustomed to the subtle details, and don’t blame yourself. These skills take time to develop. So even if you think that a particular song does in fact have no effects on it whatsoever, you are probably wrong.

The different types are plentiful and complicated. It takes a lifetime to really see through the plugin forest and use them to fullest. As a recording pro with years of experience under my belt I use can say that I now have achieved this state. Actually I achieved it a couple of years ago.

But for an ordinary recording engineer to look at the vast amount of compressors, limiters, EQs, delays and all that, for such a person not to get confused takes some time and dedication.

Another thing is that nowadays people start out recording with digital tools. They never had the chance to learn the craft from the ground up. They never worked in a big major studio, where the huge stars would record their legendary albums. Here they would have learned how to use effects. Believe me that. Talking about school of hard knocks.

Finding the right tool for the job is paramount. But it is also hard. In the next section of this hands-on pro-tutorial I will share some secret tips and tricks about how to pick the right plugin. These surprisingly simple rules of thumb will make your life a whole easier. So stay tuned…