In our humble opinion here at North Origin, mixing is the most important part of producing dance music, behind the actual music. At the end of the day, if the music doesn't connect with people then no one is going to give a shit how well the kick and bass are mixed. That said, mixing is massively important with any genre of music but extremely important when it comes to making dance records. Mixing is also a huge part of your production process and your sound. How you mix records becomes part of 'your sound'.
Since mixing is a HUGE category, we will more than likely have many posts related to this subject but for now, here are some tips to get you started.
1. The standard 'Clearing the bass frequencies' or low cutting.
Everyone knows you should be low cutting sounds to clear up that low end in order for the kick and bass to work....and if you didn't, well now you do. Simple stuff, but here is a little technique you can try to use that may give some good results for your low end. I believe that your sub frequencies (with regards to your synths and basses etc not the kick) should be occupied by ONE sound.
It is important to realize that with low end information you are dealing with Sine waves and if you keep stacking these waves (adding more instruments or sounds) then you are simply stacking sine waves on top of each other, which is a great way to introduce phase issues to your lower end. Clear out the low end and use fewer instruments down there - it will make it much cleaner and avoid phasing issues. Many artists, especially in the tech house and techno genres, use a kick and a simple sine wave played in a low octave to fill out their bottom end. It really doesn't have to be more complicated than that.
2. Avoid over compression.
We are all guilty of this at some stage I guess!! I often find myself retaining dynamics in my mix and then trying to squeeze it a little to hard at mastering only to realize I am overdoing it!! Remember dynamics are good!!! Ask yourself if you really need to be inserting a compressor and if you do ....then why are you putting it in there. Be wary of too much gain reduction. Understand why you are compressing something and what the compressor is actually achieving. Randomly slapping compressors everywhere isn't going to teach you anything. In my early days of making music i was slapping compressors everywhere just because i thought that was what you were meant to do. Now that i am more educated i find myself using less and less compressors and when i do use them, it is for a specific reason.
3. Subtractive EQing.
Im a big fan of subtractive EQing. For some reason I rarely boost and if I do it is only minor changes. It isn't wrong to boost your EQ by any means but im a big fan of going hunting for those undesired resonant frequencies!! Remember though, keep your cuts tight to avoid thinning your sound to much. At the end of the day if it sounds good then it is good and if adding huge EQ boosts helps you achieve the sound you want, then go for it.
Grouping is great for those of us which don't have particularly powerful PCs!! It means we can process many different sounds as one whole sound which saves our CPU being eaten up. There is no real set way to group......for me I generally have a synth group, a hats and percussion group, a clap group and maybe even an FX group if there are numerous effects I want to sidechain together or add reverb to for example. Grouping is especially good when you want to reduce the dynamic range of various sounds for example; with your drums you can compress the group buss which makes the quieter sounds come up a little and then slightly reduces the louder sounds. Another little thing I often do is find a selection of percussions and hats that I want to sound 'in the same room', basically meaning I want all those sounds to have the same reverb which gives the feeling of them being played in the same room. I will group these sounds together and then apply reverb, usually on a send, to that group.
5. Harmonic Exciters
I like to add a little bit of excitement to my upper mid and high frequency areas, to add a bit of sparkle. It can be easily overdone so go in carefully. Remember that higher frequency sounds are perceived as louder so even subtly changes here can affect how the volume is perceived.
6. Less is more and your background sounds are important!
Its simple: the less sounds you have, the easier it is to mix!
When I am trying to create a progressive track, with plenty of melodies and different soundscapes.....the final mixdown is an absolute nightmare, simply because of all the sounds and all the frequencies involved, however, if I make a little house groover....the mix is easy, simply because it is less dense. Everything has room to breathe and there are less instruments competing for space in the mix.
Do not overcrowd your tracks!! Also remember that your track needs a foreground, a theme...the main character if you will but it also needs a background. What goes on in the background is essential to keeping the ear interested. Create depth with reverbs, delays and various automations. Little FX and sounds don't have to be up front in the mix.....keep them low in volume and add some random FX in there. Background pads and ambient sounds help fill the space but also keep the ear interested in the music, more often than not the background sounds tie everything together.
So there are a few mixing tips for now. Hopefully in future we will be adding more articles and videos to help the budding dance music producers. For now, have fun making music!!
Have any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments.