13 years ago, when I first got into music, the Internet was not packed with tutorials and advices on how to create your own home recording studio, how to make an instrumental, how to record music, how to mix and master a song. Living in a small city made it impossible for me to achieve the right quality for my music. The lack of information almost broke my wings and the first couple of years of me entering the music world represented the dark age of my small “carrier”. It took some time before I got my hands on a decent music software. Those where the days when I was using the N-Track Studio to record my vocals on an instrumental created on a common keyboard. As I said, totally unprofessional.
Ok, so you have seen what “Youtube” says about mixing and mastering. I will give you my fast recipe about this topic. Before going into details, you need to know there is no ultimate tutorial on how to mix and master a song, because there are many factors involved, and the raw recordings will always sound different. There are so many mics, so many soundcards, it’s impossible to create a recipe that will work for every each one.
First, you need to lay down your vocals. That’s the first thing you should take care of. Try to have the best performance ever, if you notice a mistake remove that recording and try again. Don’t think that the mixing will “save the day” because you will end up with a mediocre project. After you have your vocals in the multi-track software, you need to clean them. Use the cut tool and remove the parts before the actual voice and the large silence parts. It should be an easy process. Once you have your vocals cleaned, the hook/chorus is in place, you need to apply effects to each track. What I like to do here, is to create a Group or a FX channel and send the output of all these tracks to that group. This way, you can add the effects to a single Group/FX channel and it would be easier to work and to control. If you need additional effects for chorus, you can use a secondary group or FX channel for that group. And if we are talking about chorus, you should know that the chorus needs a different mix in order to stand up and be noticed. What I like to do is apply a stereo effect on it (adding a small delay to the left channel) or pan the chorus vocals in original mix, one to the left, one to the right and live the third one as it is. I presume that you have at least three vocals for the chorus. That should give you a nice stereo effect.
I like to add the following VST effects on the vocal group: EQ (to cut down frequencies below 150hz), compression (max 4:1), de-esser, reverb. Sometimes, if you add the reverb before the first EQ, you will notice that the vocals may stand better in the mix. You should experiment with all these effects, depending on your music genre. At this point, you should watch the overall output levels of the song. Make sure there is no clipping (usually marked by red).
Mastering a song
Once the mix is done, you need to add mastering effects. I like the Wave SSL for mastering and I try to use effects that are transparent and clean. Add a small touch in the high frequencies (optional), stereo pan (optional), a mastering compressor add a maximizer (L2 or L3 is nice). You should listen to your final song on different sound systems and make sure there is not to much compression there. What I like to do is compare the sound levels and audio quality of my song with another song that’s hot right now on TV. That should give you an idea on what sound mainstream producers are going for.
Most of the audio effects plugins used in this video come from the Waves SSL 4000 plugin. You should the package is not cheap, but it’s used by audio engineers all over the world. There are many free or cheaper alternatives, but Waves plugins are the best.