Mixing your track
Many people trying Buzz for the first time often find it difficult to obtain the rich and professional sounding results we expect from much commercial music. There have been countless discussions on the subject, and the overall consensus seems to be that the technical quality of the Buzz mixing engine is indeed sufficient to produce rich and expressive music of all genres. The flexible modular environment of Buzz allows the user to carry out highly complex production operations, with an uncommonly high level of editing precision, that when combined with imaginative and fun generators and effects, will bring satisfying, and interesting results. Many composers and producers use Buzz as their sole platform for composing, arranging and finalizing their work. Others use it as an infinitely configurable sound module for performance, or simply use it as an old-school tracker, to share their songs within the somewhat underground Tracker scene. In this article we will try to outline some of the techniques you can use to obtain a harmonious mix, once you have seized command of your individual instruments' sounds.
Mix trick 1: Start with the bass
One of the obstacles sometimes encountered is when people get a rather "thin" sound. This can happen in many ways, but one of the possible reasons is that when you throw in some samples (.wav files) into Buzz, they are typically normalized. This means that not just a loud bass drum, but even a small hihat will be hitting the maximum volume by default. This is unrealistic compared to the sound coming from a real set of drums. Also, high frequency audio carries less "energy" than low frequencies, making a properly adjusted hihat appear lower than a properly adjusted bass drum, when looking at the output level meter. Here is how you fight the problem:
Mute all instruments except fhe first one. Make it sound as good as possible. Try not to use more effects than necessary. Try to bring out what is unique to this specific instrument. For a hihat, make sure it's bright and clear. For a bass drum make sure it's fat and rich sounding. When done, mute this instrument and proceed with the next one. When all are done, enable all instruments but turn their volumes all the way down.
This part basically involves starting with the stuff that has a lot of bass (bass drums, bass lines etc.) and making them go up to app. -3 dB. Make sure the bass and the bass drum (or whatever deep stuff you have at this point) work well together. Slightly EQ'ing these few elements can make them combine without making a muddy sound. A good way to equalize each instrument is to get rid of the unwanted parts of a certain sound, like e.g. deep rumbling in a highhat that is supposed to play a role in the treble only. Make sure to enhance the characteristics that make the specific instrument stand out in the mix, and make it sound distinct.
Sometimes it also helps flipping the phase of one of the deep instruments if several instruments play simultaneously in the low frequency area.
Then you start raising the volume of anything else that is supposed to be loud. Notice the balance between the bass that is already there, and the new instrument you turn up. The balance has to be sensible. Then start adding all the last things you left out. Still, compare these with the already playing tracks in order to keep the mix well balanced.
Mix trick 2: Mixing at super low volume
Sometimes if you have been working on something for way too long, listening fatigue might decrease your power of judgement, and you end up boosting the instruments that are in the frequency ranges your ears have been resistant to. Turning up the highhat way too much is a classic mistake here. But there's a trick:
If you turn down the volume of your speakers so much that you can barely hear the music at all, the only things you will hear are two things:
- The instruments that are supposed to the loudest (main vocals, lead synths etc.)
- The stuff you forgot to turn down because of being tired
This will reveal itself when the volume is lowered a lot, because only the 2-3 loudest instruments are not drowned in the background noise of your PC, wind, rain, cars outside etc.
Mix trick 3: The Audio Triangle
Imagine the audio image being a triangle standing on its edge. The flat wide top is the treble. Here is lots of room for details. The bottom is a narrow point where only few instruments fit in. Because of this, you can only have very few different instruments in the bass, but lots of instruments in the treble, before the image becomes crowded.
A similar situation is true for stereo image: The bottom can hardly hold any stereo information where as the mid and treble are capable of holding a lot of stereo.
Mixing on headphones
Mixing on speakers and mixing on headphones both have their individual strengths and weaknesses. I'll try to outline what typically goes wrong, and where you should always check on speakers too:
- Most headphones (even rather expensive ones) do not give a correct impression of equalizing. Make sure to check your track on speakers too, when deciding on EQ.
- Amount of reverb. For some reason it is common to add the wrong amount of reverb when using headphones.
- Tuning low-frequency instruments like bass guitars etc is difficult on headphones because they introduce less harmonic distortion (overtones) than speakers typically do. Trying to fine-tune a deep bass instrument with little mid/treble on headphones often goes horribly wrong.
- Adjusting compressors and limiters often fools you badly on headphones for some reason. Always double check this with speakers too. Speakers tend to reveal certain kinds of dynamics much better.
Mixing on speakers
- Panning 100% left or right sounds perfectly fine on speakers, but if you want your music to be enjoyable in headphones too, always check your panning on headphones. Typically loud instruments should never be panned more than 80% left or right.
- Checking for clicks is difficult on most speakers. Headphones reveals this better.
- Checking for distortion is also difficult on most speakers. Again, use headphones to check.
- Low frequencies are only reproduced by large (expensive) speakers. If you have small speakers, you might end up adding too much bass. Check in headphones or using an pink-noise weighted FFT view with a window size of at least 16384 samples to see if your bass is rumbling.