Dynamic, punch and loudness – these three factors can often come into conflict when trying to create the optimal mix. Compressors and limiters can be used to increase the loudness of individual and master signals. However, using these processors can often mean sacrificing some dynamic. If the limiter is overused the mix can lose punch because limiting restricts the low frequencies that are crucial to the perception of a strong mix.
Here we’ll show you how to use compressors and limiters to mix your songs dynamically without having to sacrifice loudness.
I. Frequency Separation
An extremely important factor in any dynamic mix is the frequency separation. In principle, the frequency ranges of many instruments overlap one another. This makes it important to pay close attention to the characteristic frequency ranges for each instrument in your mix and to cut these frequencies from the other instruments when possible.
In this regard you have to differentiate between the volume (level in dB) of each instrument and the subjective perception of their respective loudness. The human ear perceives various frequencies as having different loudness levels even when they are at the same volume. Humans are particularly sensitive to the frequencies around 4 kHz.
For the mix this means that the frequencies between 2 kHz and 5 kHz have a good presence even at low volumes. To achieve the same perception of loudness for the low frequency components such as drums or bass you have to generate much more sound pressure.
II. Boost frequencies between 2 kHz and 5 kHz
Listen to the drums together with the bass:
Step 1: If you want to bring the drums and bass forward in the mix without having to use too much energy/level on the low frequency components you can first boost the attack frequencies of the bass (~5kHz)
and kick (~3.5 kHz).
As you can see we’ve also applied low-cut and high-cut to the kick and bass signals leaving only the relevant frequency ranges in the mix. This helps to make your mix more transparent.
But if you want to give the kick a bit more bottom end you can extend the frequency range down to 60 kHz.
Step 2: Now bring the vocals up in the mix [dynamic_mixing3.mp3] by raising the frequency range around 4 kHz.
Step 3: We’ll also boost the percussive instruments such as congas and bongos in the chorus to create a bit more intensity in this part of the song.
Make sure not to enhance too many signals in this sensitive frequency range otherwise it will cause listening fatigue.
III. Volume Automation
You can make your mix even more dynamic by using volume automation. This process requires a bit of endurance because ideally it involves adjusting the song progression relative to the volume on every track.
Once you have developed a good feel for fader movement with the mouse or a hardware controller, you can probably make the volume adjustments for each track in one pass.
Step 1: First you should roughly balance out the volume levels for each instrument relative to each other to make sure that none of the instruments is going to get lost in the mix or stick out like a sore thumb.
Step 2: For our song we’ll set the automation mode for the fader automation to “Touch”.
In “Touch” mode, automation data is only recorded as long as you touch the selected control element with the mouse or touch it from your external controller. As soon as you release the button, the automation recording stops. Once released, the control element will move back to the original position.
Step 3: Fader Riding: “Ride” the channel you want to automate by adjusting the volume during playback to fit the arrangement and song progression.
Step 4: Switch the automation mode back to “Read” to prevent any unwanted writing of automation.
In the Samplitude arranger you’ll see the written automation curve when the option “Show” is checked in the “Automation” section of the Track Editor and the “vol” button in the track header is activated.
(More information about automation is available under “Samplitude Academy: Automation in Samplitude”)
A more complicated but exact method is to go through the tracks systematically and divide it into separate objects for the various parts where the volume needs to be adjusted. Once divided into sections, the volume can be adjusted manually in each object. Let’s edit the vocal track with this method as an example.
Step 1: First we’ll use the keyboard shortcut “T” to split our vocal track into small objects containing the various parts.
Step 2: Now move the mouse over the middle handle in the object. This turns the mouse pointer into a double arrow. Drag the handle up or down to adjust the volume of the object. You can make very fine adjustments by simultaneously holding down the “Shift” key.
When doing this you can cut the objects very small so you can control every nuance in the vocals.
IV. Setting Accents
Set rhythmic accents at crucial points in order to bring individual instruments forward in the mix.
Step 1: We’ll split the object “Guit Pick” after the first few strums using the keyboard shortcut “T”.
Step 2: Now we’ll boost the first chords by 2dB to put more dynamic in the mix.
This also produces a psycho-acoustic effect: The human ear perceives an instrument as being generally louder even when it is only actually louder at the start.
Step 3: We can accent the individual bass drum hits and words at the beginning of vocal passages in the same way.
By using the sensitivity of the human ear we can create more dynamic and the impression of loudness by accenting the first note from an instrument or the first word in a vocals section. This is a great way to “save” on level.
V. Creating Dynamic with Panorama Automation
By distributing the instruments in the stereo image you can dynamically vary the stereo base in the song progression to make your mixes more lively.
Step 1: Create a dynamic stereo field in your song structure. As an example you can increase the stereo width of the chorus relative to the verses by adding additional guitar tracks on the outside left and right of the panorama or adding short effect accents.
Step 2: For the “Bass FX” track we’ll automate the panorama and move the signal back and forth between the left and right channels.
These types of rhythmic adjustments are a great way to add more dynamic to the stereo field.
Have fun making dynamic mixes!