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    ::: Progressive Trance and House music mixing :::

    Are You an Inspired DJ or a Music Producer Who Wants To MAKE IT In the Music Business?

    My name is Andre Hammer,sound designer and music producer (aka FREi, Van Den Enden, Wavescape)

    Here I'd like to share some of my experience in mixing of progressive trance and house music. Not a secret that mixing these styles of music can be extremely challenging and may take years of trial and error before the final results become more or less satisfactory.

    Hopefully this thread will help you to save a lot of time and prevent the mistakes from happening while recording and mixing progressive electronic music.

    Being a big fan of Armin Van Buuren (#1 Trance DJ), Tiesto and Alex Gaudino (#1 House DJ producer) I hope to be clear about my own influences that somewhat shaped my perception of electronic dance music.

    So, first of all - not all the dance music requires the same techniques that I apply in my tracks. Only progressive TRANCE and HOUSE music requires these methods of mixing, so I wouldn't apply these to your rock,pop or country tracks.

    As an example, I would like to share one of my recent tracks called Liquid Sky, that reached #1 position in Electronica charts in May,2008 among 229,999 other songs which is a good indication that this track may be a good example of HOW TO produce progressive trance music.

    I've also been in Music Production industry for over 10 years and have dozens of audio tracks being played by world's famous DJs including Judge Jules (BBC Radio 1) and have generated quite a good passive income for me since 2008.

    But I'll let YOU be the judge!

    You can click on the link below to listen to some of my audio tracks:

    >>> Listen to Audio Track here:

    1. How to achieve huge SIZE of your KICK and BASS without ruining your mix.

    2. How to create SYNTH lines that are GROOVY and BOUNCY.

    3. How to apply EFFECTS and in what SEQUENCE (one after another)

    Now if you are able to view the image below you will see that this particular project has just over 33 tracks mixed down (mixed in Logic Express cool

    Each track contains important instruments at one point of that mix and plays it's minor, but very important role in the overall sound of this track that lasts just over 9 minutes smile

    So, the first mistake that music producers make is when they try to make EACH track (33) sound loud and clear which will NEVER work out great.
    Why so many tracks? Well, most of them are either "doubles", "extras" or even phantom channels (buses full of effects).
    In reality there are never more than 5 MAJOR instrumental tracks are playing at once, while all the others are merely "backup" tracks, that only create SIZE and IMPRESS, rather than actually being in the center of attention.

    For example, there is one KICK in this track composed of two different sounds (over-layering) which is a commonly used technique to enhance your kick drum.

    There is one BASS track backed-up by ARPEGGIO (rhythmic synth line hits at 00:45)

    There is also a very rhythmic LEAD (hits at 00:15) with a lot of 1/8 delay and a little bit of Reverb (on the bus).

    All these MAJOR tracks have been created on Access Virus C synth, but these days a good software instrument can easily sound just as good as an analog synth, so don't get discouraged if you don't have a couple grands to invest into your studio gear - money can rarely compensate the lack of skills.

    I also use many percussive loops that also play important role in my mixes.
    Now if you play drums - make the loops your-self or if not, just download them from Internet (I do a little bit of both)

    Once you create these MAJOR tracks, it's time to start with mixing.... and that's where all these extra tracks become a necessity of a proper mix.

    Now if you'll take a look at the image below (reading glasses required due to the size restrictions for JPG files uploads) you will notice that there are 3 types of recorded single tracks - Audio (Dark Blue), MIDI/VST or AU (Green) and
    Auxiliary/Bus (Brown).

    All the audio files were recorded from Virus synth using a MIDI cable, other MIDI tracks were either software instrument Sampler(EXS24) or a Drum machine (Ultrabeat).
    Auxiliary or BUS channels were used to apply effects to the sounds by routing Audio or Software instruments through these tracks.

    Now, because AUX/BUS tracks are the most complex of all, not too many producers like to use them.

    If you'll look closely (under the microscope perhaps) you will see that each AUX/BUS track was assigned a name that reflects the channel's duties.
    "Trigger" track transfers the KICK sound directly to the Compressor for Side-chaining purpose (no actual output on this BUS channel, just the transfer is required and not an extra kick track). Meanwhile the KICK track "sends" the audio information to the BUS (send window).By doing so, I created a "phantom" trigger channel (AUX/BUS) that IS required for a side-chain compression that can be applied to OTHER instruments in the mix, but NOT the KICK. I prefer not to apply compressor directly to my kicks,so I keep the kick channel fairly uncompressed but maximized if necessary (use Maximizer or Limiter).
    Now, when I insert Compressor on my BASS,LEAD,PERCUSSION or ANY other track I can use my KICK as a TRIGGER, so that when the kick hits in, all the other compressed instruments are reducing their volume to allow my KICK to "cut through" in the mix.

    Other AUX/BUS channels are EFFECTS tracks is where I send my instruments using "SEND" window on each instrument track. They are DELAY, REVERB, SIMMER.

    I usually send most of my instrumental tracks to these REVERB and DELAY effects channels.
    Because all the effects on the AUX/BUS channel strips are in "WET" mode (100% effects) it gives me an opportunity to HEAR only EFFECTS even if I mute my actual instrument channels. This is a very creative way to "mix in"
    your effects ON TOP of your instrumental tracks, adding that nice background layer to your existing "dry" sounds.
    I NEVER apply any ECHO/Reverb on top of my KICK and BASS, so keep them "dry" in order to maintain very clear and loud sound.
    SOMETIMES you may need to apply rhythmic DELAY for your BASS or KICK, but in this track I keep them clean from any delay.

    In every mixing situation you will face the challenge to fit all of your sounds into one virtual space called the HEADROOM. When recording digitally it's important to remember NEVER go above 0 Db (decibels), but once you start layering more and more tracks the overall (master) volume has to be reduced to prevent the "clipping".
    My solution to this problem is to keep your loudest instruments in the mix quiet, so that all together they reach the peak later than if you'll keep them to the max from the start.

    Loudest Group: KICK,BASS,SNARE - under 5 Db.

    Moderately Loud Group: LEAD,ARPEGGIO,PERCUSSION,VOCAL - under 9 Db

    Quiet Group: PAD,SWEEPS,BACKUP VOCAL - under 14 Db.

    Do not get me wrong!

    Audio mixing is a dynamic process where the VOLUME slider is just a starting point. Later you will apply Compressors,Limiters,Reverbs and Delays, so you will have to go back to your mixing board to make fine adjustments to your volume slider. But one rule of a thumb - NEVER ABOVE 0 Db.

    Starting to mix your music with lower volume allows more headspace for your effects, so when it comes to 0 Db, it will be a SOLID ZERO, and not an overload of your clip box...

    MASTERING engineer must have a lot of HEADROOM in order to enhance digitally recorded track by using his own analog consoles. Mastering plug-ins just won't work and that's why I don't even bother to modify my MASTER output - it's always "dry" and somewhere between 0 and - 5 Db.

    It costs about $50 to get your dance tracks mastered in the professional studio and there is a reason why top music producers hire a professional mastering engineer to finish the job. They simply hear your music better + a top notch analog equipment makes a pretty BIG difference.


    Isn't that as simple as a VOLUME control button/slider?

    It isn't and that's why:

    Increased volume results in LOUDNESS and has nothing to do with an actual texture of original sound. So if the sound was recorded in MONO and is totally dry, the volume button/slider won't help even if it is above 0 Db

    For that purpose we have EFFECTS in our disposal.



    Rhythmic effects: DELAY,TREMOLO,SLICER

    Dynamic effects: COMPRESSOR, LIMITER



    Apply Compressor after delay and it will pump up delay's feedback.

    Apply Equalizer before Compressor and control what frequencies will be pumped up more.

    Apply Noise Gate after Compressor to cut the pumping effect and get the goodness of both worlds-strong but short pump that does not overpower the mix.

    Apply SAMPLE DELAY to delay Right stereo channel in milliseconds and keep the Left channel at the zero. ( try 0/600 msec. - guitar doubler, or 0/1000 msec. - super-wide pad)

    Apply FLANGER to your percussion,hats or else.

    Apply DISTORTION or QUADRA DISTORTION to your KICK or BASS especially to the low frequency zone where the "fuzz" is less audible (I prefer over-layering of sounds instead of distortion)

    Apply SIDECHAIN COMPRESSOR to your BASS or LOOP and TWEAK the Threshold and gain amounts until the bass dissolves in the kick and percussive loop starts jumping. Next apply the LIMITER to level out the volume jumps (boost Limiter's gain to squeeze the guts out of your sound..... that's called being creative), but keep in mind that if you squeeze a little bit too much of dynamic range out of your BASS - you're screwed. But even if it's screwed up, try to boost the volume a little - that might help.

    And just like in any war, use every weapon that is available to you to get the dance music LOUD,CLEAR and PUMPING. That's why it's called the dance music - it's gotta make people jump.


    The ultimate groove machine exists! And it's called DELAY.
    Using Stereo or Mono Delay before the Compressor/Sidechain Compressor
    also can boost delay's feedback and make the echoes more apparent in the mix. DELAY/COMPRESSOR combination is especially useful when dealing with LEAD sounds that are lacking the groove and are rhythmically boring.

    Using DELAY can also bring BASS to life, but also can "wash away" the bass sound if overused. So be careful with DRY/WET ratio.

    Some delays have a very creative "tail" that can spice up you KICK drum if applied properly.

    Option 1 (Arpeggiator)

    Grab a good hardware synth or a MIDI keyboard.

    If your synth has ARPEGGIATOR - consider your-self to be lucky,because the most spontaneous and funky bass lines can be created on the fly with proper arpeggio(note sequence). It your arpeggiator has HOLD option - just synchronize your MIDI time clock with your computer recording software and hit the keys until you find the best arpeggio preset.

    Option 2 (MIDI map):

    If your bass synthesizer does not have built-in arpeggiator, you can program your bass lines in MIDI editor. Either play and QUANTIZE notes, or draw notes on the MIDI map.

    Option 3 (Live):

    Plug-in your bass guitar and record the lines.

    Option 4 (Loop):

    Find the royalty free loop in your recording program or on the Internet and use it in your music. It is legal to use other producer's samples if they are available on Internet as "royalty free". Sometimes it is worth to buy sample libraries that may also contain MIDI,Apple Loops files and many other useful stuff.

    Once the simple bass lines are recorded here is the list of "bass friendly effects" that can be applied during mixing stage of your bass instrument.



    1)EQ (filters out unwanted frequency zones)
    2)Distortion/Overdrive or Bass Amp plug-in (adds harmonics and texture)
    3)Delay (creates groove)
    4)Compressor (in side-chain mode, triggered by Kick creates dynamics)
    5)Limiter (prevents clipping and adds extra pressure to your bass line)

    KICK DRUM art & science:

    To achieve strong "punch" in my KICK drums I usually do one of the following:

    LAYER multiple kick samples into one
    (Low kick(below 150 Hz) Middle Kick(between 150-1500 Hz and High Kick(above 1500 Hz or White Noise on top)


    Use 1 already punchy kick with a little bit of white noise/hi-hat click.

    Here is the list of "kick friendly effects": (in a proper sequence)

    1.EQ (to filter out mid-low frequency around 220 Hz,cut below 32 Hz and above 8000 Hz depending on your preferences)
    2.Small Reverb/Delay ONLY for creative "tail" of your kick, NOT to increase space or ambience, because ambience will ruin the punchiness.
    3.Distortion/Overdrive/Bitcrusher/Rectifier to give a little tecture IF required.
    4.Hard Limiter ( with positive (+) GAIN amount , aka MAXIMAZER)

    >>>> Here you can download really high quality kicks to play around with from Jamie Lewis MEGA MUSIC MAKER:
    MMM 2000 Kicks and Beats Samples

    I used some of their HARD kicks in Liquid Sky mixed with 1 overlayered loop with an extra kick and filtered low end (below 150 Hz)

    Thanks for reading and I hope this article will help you to improve the quality of your audio tracks!

    Andre "FREi" Hammer

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