It’s easy to get lost in the sea of features we have in modern music production software and lose sight of the basics. Here’s a lowdown on some of the most common problems with mixdowns I receive for mastering and tips on how to avoid them.
Make recognizing and avoiding these basic mistakes a part of your routine. Please bear in mind – while this advice is quite universal, it’s written with drum and bass and dubstep music in mind. OK let’s get to it…
1. The low end clash
Most commonly this means a bassdrum creeping over to the bassline’s sub-bass territory too much. We are talking about the area below of about 80Hz, depending on the track. If you have too many things going on here it can cause cancellation and other problems. It also makes it very hard in a mastering situation to work with the bottom end and make it solid.
This problem is easily fixed in the mix stage: use low cut EQ on your bassdrum to control it. You must leave room for the sub bass to run around in it’s own territory. Find out where those frequencies are and adjust the low end of the drums accordingly. Don’t be afraid to be cruel.
2. Too much bass
It is very easy to murder your mixdown with too much sub-bass. Especially if your listening environment is not ideally suited for proper sub-bass reproduction (as is the case most of the time). What then happens is that the sub-bass energy will swamp the whole mix making the track actually sound quieter and undefined.
A lot of the time this is easily fixed in a mastering situation. But when you combine this with other problems, such as the low end clash I have just mentioned, things can get messy. For example we might end up having to compromise the bassdrum to fix the bassline, and end up sounding like crap anyway.
Here is a three-part solution to achieving well balanced sub-bass levels in your tracks:
- Listen in different environments as well as with headphones. This is crucial if your initial production space is lacking in bass reproduction.
- Do a lot of referencing. Compare with other similar, professionally mastered and released music and listen carefully.
- Use frequency analysis as a visual guide. It’s better to base your judgements on both your ears as well as eyes.
3. The mixdown is heavily compressed/limited
This is quite obvious. Mastering people keep reminding about it because it does happen too much. The options are limited if there are no dynamics left to work with.
The worst case scenario is when the mix is squashed to bits and there are problems that require a lot of processing. To me these are always interesting cases as I like a challenge. However it’s a lot of work and the end result would inevitably be better if there was a mix with healthy dynamics to work with.
So to recap: Don’t squash the master channel!!! Dynamics are necessary. Let mastering engineer sort out the limiting.
4. Clicks/pops/errors in the mixdown
Offline bounce is one of the nicest features in modern sequencers. It saves us loads of time. However it has also resulted in increased number of mistakes that go unnoticed when bouncing/rendering tunes without having to listen at the same time.
Unstable software also results in all kinds of clicks and pops that simply weren’t happening before everything went digital. This just happened to me when bouncing off the final mixdowns for the upcoming Loxy & Resound album “Burning Shadows”. There was a terrible click on one of the tracks, apparently caused by an unstable plugin. Good thing I noticed.
Another reason for pops is cutting audio files outside the waveform zero point. This tends to happen a lot with sounds with lots of bass. This is easily fixed by applying fade-ins and fade-outs at cutting points to smooth the waveform out.
The thing to remember here is: don’t forget to carefully listen and check your bounces are OK before sending them out. I know it feels long after having listened to the same track for hundreds of times. Just do it.
Continue to part two
Let me know if you are finding this helpful! Use the comments section to post any questions or ideas. If there is something specific you would like to read about just holler. You can also get in touch via the contact page.