Creating a Rough Mix
When mixing, you start with a rough mix, then fine-tune the mix, and finally polish the mix in the final master. There are five basic steps for creating the final mix:
Adjust the volume levels of the individual tracks to balance the sound of the different instruments.
Adjust the pan positions of the individual tracks to place them in the correct location in the stereo field.
Find and fix any musical imperfections in timing, velocity, or performance. (This may require editing in the editor, or rerecording a section of the song.)
Add and adjust effects to enhance the sound of individual tracks or the whole song.
Create dynamic volume and pan changes over time using the Volume and Pan curves on individual tracks and the Master track.
Let's start with step 1, adjusting the volume levels of the different tracks.
As you can imagine, there are hundreds of combinations of volume levels you could try on this song. Instead of experimenting, let's use logic and come up with a plan.
Planning Your Volume Mix
To mix the volume levels, you need to know what type of sound you are going for in your song. What style of music is this song? A vocal ballad might favor the vocal tracks and the lead instruments and keep the drums low in the mix. A club song might favor the drums and synth bass tracks and bury the supporting tracks. Rock songs often favor the lead guitar and vocals and keep the drums about midlevel. Every song is different, every style is different, and every mix is different.
As I mentioned before, this song is about a nomadic Southern rock band, and I want the style to feel like a live performance. The guitars are the lead instruments and should be played higher (louder) in the mix. The shaker, tambourine, and strings are supporting background parts that should be lower (quieter) in the overall mix.
Mixing Volume Levels for Individual Tracks
The first step is to adjust the volume levels to balance the song. Mixing tracks of music is very much like mixing cooking ingredients. You start with the main ingredients, like water and tomatoes if it is a marinara sauce. Then you slowly add more ingredients, tasting along the way to make sure there isn't too much or too little of anything before moving on to the next. Following this analogy, the main ingredients (lead tracks) of the song have already been adjusted. Time to work on the next track, which in this case will be the Electric Bass. To save time in selecting tracks, you can simply use the up and down arrow keys.
Press the down arrow key to select the Electric Bass track. You may need to press it more than once if you started with the Acoustic Guitar 1 track selected.
Press S to solo the selected Electric Bass track, then play the song from the beginning and listen to the bass along with the soloed guitar tracks.
The default volume level (0 dB) is a good starting point for the Electric Bass track. However, you may find it a little too heavy in the mix, which takes away from the lead guitars.
Lower the Electric Bass track to 4.6 dB. Feel free to raise or lower it to your own liking.
Next, you'll add all four Drum Kit tracks, one at a time.
Begin playback from the beginning of the song. Press the up arrow key until the upper Drum Kit track is selected. Then press S to solo the track. Press the down arrow, then press S to select and solo each of the drum tracks while the song is playing.
How do the drums sound and feel with the other tracks? They seem a little dominant and distracting to me. In other words, they're too loud! Remember your goal isn't to raise the volume of each track to match, it is to find balance between the tracks. If your marinara sauce had equal parts tomato, onion, and garlic it would taste completely different and would probably not be very popular except among vampire slayers.
Start playback again from the beginning of the song and lower the volume level of each Drum Kit track to 8.5.
Adjusting track volume is like adjusting water temperature in a sink with separate cold and hot controls. If you are running both hot and cold water, and you want to make the overall temperature hotter, you can just turn down the cold instead of turning up the hot. The same goes for volumeinstead of making a track louder to hear it better, you might need to turn down the other tracks a bit.
Before you mix the rest of the tracks, it's a good idea to mute the remaining tracks, then unsolo all the soloed tracks. That way you simply unmute the final tracks as you go. There's no sense in soloing all of a song's tracks; that kind of defeats the purpose of solo. You can click the Mute button on the remaining Tambourine, Shaker, Acoustic Guitar, and Hollywood strings tracks, or select the tracks and press M to mute.
Mute the four remaining tracks, then unsolo all of the soloed tracks.
Press Cmd-S to save your progress.
Now that you understand the principle behind mixing the volume levels of music tracks, it's your turn to finish the job. Start with the Hollywood Strings track. It sounds pretty good in the mix at the default level. To add the muted tracks, start playback, select the track, and press M to unmute. Next, add the shaker and tambourine tracks. They both seem about twice as loud as they need to be, so let's lower them to half of their current volume. Finally, add the Acoustic Guitar track below the Shaker track. This track includes only one region at the end of the track, so you'll need to play the ending to hear that part with the other tracks. If you're not sure which volume levels to set for the tracks, try the following:
0 dB (default) for the Hollywood Strings track
16.7 dB for the Shaker and Tambourine tracks
4.6 dB for the lowest Acoustic Guitar track
If you didn't complete any of the previous exercises, feel free to open the project 7-2 HB volume mixed to catch up. Then save the project as Highway Brothers to your My GarageBand Projects folder.
Panning the Individual Tracks
Now it's time to place the individual tracks in their proper position within the stereo field. There are many different styles for panning the tracks. The important thing is to spread the tracks out within the stereo field. Remember the panoramic photo of the Rocky Mountains? Imagine a beautiful panoramic picture with mountains spread from the left to right side of the frame, birds in the air, a stream in the foreground, a grove of trees on the right side, and a train cutting through the lower left of the frame. The photographer utilized the full stereo field when composing the picture.
Right now, your song has all of the tracks panned to the center. To re-create that onstage in the real world, all of the musicians would have to line up one behind the other in the center of the stage, or on top of one another like a musical totem pole. That wouldn't look very natural, and it doesn't sound natural either. Your ears, trained or untrained, are accustomed to hearing where a sound is coming from, as well as hearing the sound itself.
Let's use the pan controls to place the different musicians where they would be if they were performing this song onstage.
The illustration shows the relative position of the musicians performing "Highway Brothers" onstage. The drums are in the middle of the stage (center pan position). The tambourine and shaker are performed by the backup singers on the left and right of the drums. The two guitars are next to each other, just to the left and right of center stage. The bass is on the left side of the stage, and the keyboard (which plays the strings) is on the right.
To set the panning control for each instrument, simply adjust the Pan wheel so it is pointing in the direction of the instrument in the panoramic field of the stage.
Let's start with the lead Acoustic Guitar tracks. They are currently panned in the 2:00 and 10:00 positions and are panned a little too far left and right for this scenario. Imagine two guitar players standing next to each other in the center of the stage. They can't both be in the center at the same time, so instead they are slightly right and left.
On the Acoustic Guitar 1 track, click the first dot to the left of center on the Pan wheel to place the sound of that track just to the left of center.
On the Acoustic Guitar 2 track, click the first dot to the right of center on the Pan wheel to place the sound of that track just to the right of center.
If you compare the pan positions of the two guitar tracks to the picture of the band, you'll see that the controls for each track point to the actual instrument.
Using the picture as a guide, let's set the panning controls for the rest of the tracks.
Pan the Tambourine track to the second dot to the right of center.
Pan the Shaker track to the second dot to the left of center.
Pan the Hollywood Strings track to the third dot to the right.
Pan the Electric Bass track to the third dot to the left.
The lower Acoustic Guitar track that plays only at the end of the song can stay panned to the center.
Play the first half of the song from the beginning to hear the rough mix.
So, what did you hear this time? Did it sound like the same old song, or did you hear the different instruments (tracks) performing from different places in the stereo field?
Did you notice that the bass seems out of place so far to the left? Some ears are more sensitive to bass than others. However, anytime you pan the bass too far from center, it has a tendency to sound a little strange. Low, bassy sounds feel better if they are closer to the center of the mix, regardless of where they might be on the stage.
Change the pan position for the Electric Bass track to one click to the left of center.
Take a closer look at the guitar tracks for a moment. You're probably wondering why I doubled some of the regions but not all of them. I was going for a live performance feel, where one guitar starts, the other joins in, and they mirror each other (not easy to do live). Then the first guitar drops out to let the second lead, and then they play together again, alternating from time to time. The idea is to give the feeling that this was performed by two real guitar players playing on separate tracks from different locations onstage, instead of sounding like a bunch of Software Instrument loops on tracks in the Timeline.
Play the entire song from the beginning and listen with your trained ear to the different guitar tracks as well as the other tracks.
Press Shift-Cmd-S and save this version of the song as HB rough mix.
Excellent! You just completed your rough mix of the song. You're ready to proceed to the next steps.
If you missed any of the previous steps, please feel free to open the project 7-3 HB rough mix to catch up. Save the project as HB rough mix to your My GarageBand Projects folder.
Locking Tracks to Improve Processor Speed
Now that you've adjusted the volume and panning levels of all the music tracks, it's a good idea to lock the tracks that are finished. Track locking serves two primary purposes:
It prevents unwanted changes.
It renders the track to the computer's hard drive, which frees up processor speed for the rest of the tracks.
You certainly don't need to lock tracks unnecessarily. However, when you're working with a lot of Software Instrument tracks that require more processor speed, locking tracks and rendering them to the hard drive can improve GarageBand's performance.
Let's lock all of the Drum Kit tracks in order to free up some of the processing required to play those Software Instrument tracks.
On each of the Drum Kit track headers, click the Lock button.
The Lock button turns green to indicate that the track is locked.
Play the song from the beginning to render the locked tracks.
A progress window appears, showing you that the tracks are locking and rendering. When rendering is complete, the window closes automatically, and the song plays from the beginning.
You can unlock a track anytime by clicking its Lock button. If you do unlock a track, any other locked tracks will remain locked and rendered until you unlock them.
That's it. You've rendered those four tracks to the hard drive, which frees up processor speed for effects and other advanced features.
It's time to move on to some more advanced mixing features, which include fixing timing and velocity, creating dynamic volume and pan changes over time using track curves, and working with the Master track to apply changes to the overall song.