Here are some easy tips to give you more control during the mix and better results at the end.
Sometimes you want to use a hammer, and sometimes you want to use a feather. Parallel compression lets you tweak subtle settings against an effect. This treatment can be used on any element in the mix, but for demonstration purposes we will use it on the drum group.
Group all of the drums tracks together. (Do not include percussion.) Create a sub group master for the group. Now place an aux send on each of the tracks in the drum group and set it to pre-fader and unity gain.
Set up an aux return, and place a compressor/limiter on the insert of the aux return. Try a very heavy compression setting to start with so it’s easier to hear in the mix (I start my compressor settings at 10:1 at –25dB); once you get used to the sound, you’ll probably want to tone it down some. Blend the sub master return with the aux return in the mix and hear the drums come alive. Because you are sending each track individually through the aux bus, but returning as a group, you have maximum flexibility in the mix. If you want the snare to hit the compressor harder, just add more of the aux send.
Automate Flange Effects to Image Mono Instruments
Sometimes all you have to work with is a mono audio track, but it seems to get lost in competition with other tracks in the mix. I have often championed the use of imaging with digital delays for mono instruments, but here I want to put forth the proposition that all images are not created equal; some images are used to widen the stereo field and some are used for effect. This time, place a flange on the delayed side and automate the wet/dry mix to provide a wonderful variety of sounds during the progression of the song. Experiment using this technique with all of the components of the flange—vary the depth, rate, or even the waveform. This is a subtle change, but high levelmixing is all about subtlety.
Beef Up One-Offs by Limiting the Master Bus
I am generally not a big fan of putting effects on the stereo master bus during the mixdown process. However, for quick one-offs (i.e., tracks you want to toss out into the world to get some feedback before the mastering session), there is nothing like placing a great limiter on the master to really beef up your output. I use a Waves L1 Ultramaximizer set to a –3 dB ceiling and a process gain of 12. This setting will level off the top volume of the mix while bringing the instruments into sharper focus, and has a tendency to pop the top end of the EQ spectrum while thickening up the low midrange.
Don’t Return Everything You Send
It sounds counter-intuitive, but you don’t have to return a signal to the place where you would naturally bring it back. The re-routing of effects can give you choices in the mixdown that you could never have dreamed of—the optimum word being choices!
Let’s go back to our drum example for a moment. We have just compressed it, and we have two different signals returning back to the stereo bus. Let’s place another aux send on the return of the compressed aux track and bring that return back to the stereo mix. Place a short room reverb on the new aux return. Make sure that the send to this new return is in pre-fader mode. Keep the reverb return fader up and take the compressed fader down. This will give you the sound of the original signal and the compressed signal through the reverb together in one mix. Don’t stop with reverbs; try any effect that you like! This crazy technique works great.