Mixing Part 2: Working with subgroups
In part one of this series, I covered some of the basic theories around mixing, and talked a bit about why it’s important. This time I’m going to look more specifically at a few practical approaches to setting up a mix.
To avoid getting bogged down in specific implementations, I’m not going to look at specific platforms such as Cubase, Logic, FL Studio or Ableton. Instead, I’m going to explain what needs doing, and you’ll need to work out how to implement this in your sequencer of choice. Feel free to bounce queries off me, however.
Lift and separate
The first thing you need to do is to separate all the sounds in your track into similar groupings. We call this Subgrouping.
Let’s start with the most obvious one – the drums. Your drum groove will probably consist of more than one channel, unless you are utterly lame and have just dropped in a loop from somewhere. If so, shame on you.
To get good control of the drums, we need to pull them out from the Master output and route them all into a single channel. This allows all sorts of cleverness like being able to compress them as a group without affecting other sounds in the mix, filtering them, distorting them, whatever. Or, most obviously, bring the entire drum mix up or down in the tune without having to tweak the level of each individual sound.
So first we need a Subgroup. Some sequencers come with subgroups built into their mixers. Logic allows you to define them right at the beginning. Cubase lets you add them as you go along. FL Studio has a flexible routing system that lets any mixer channel be a subgroup.
Once you’ve chosen your subgroup channel, you need to go to each Drum channel and change its output from Master or Main Mix, and route it to the subgroup instead.
Rinse and repeat
Do the same thing for every sound type in your mix. Group all the pad sounds together, all the bass sounds, all the leads.
But be intelligent about it. You want to be grouping not just by the names of the sounds, but by the sonic quality of the individual sounds themselves. For example, if your track contains a lot of pads, but some of these are fat and chunky while others are thin and string-like, you’d be better off grouping these sorts of sounds separately.
Once we’ve got everything neatly grouped, we’re ready to start actually mixing.
From the bottom up
Now that everything’s in groups, zero them all. We want to start from complete silence. Appreciate that any “pre-mixing” that you did while writing the track isn’t affected by this because you’ve subgrouped things. If you want to hear the track as it was before you started mixing, just return all group channels to their default levels.
I will typically start by working on the drums, and then add the bass sounds in until I have a fat basis to work with. I do this because so much of today’s music relies heavily on the groove, so it makes sense to get that aspect solid before getting lost in the frilly bits.
In the next instalment, I’m going to look at the most basic and powerful tool in the mix arsenal – the EQ.