How To: Making a Broadcast Mix – Part 5

It’s week 5 here at Studio.Stage.Live and we are in the middle of our series on making broadcast mixes. These posts are far from perfect and not super detailed for a reason. As I’ve hopefully made clear by now, this series aims to help you lay the framework for your broadcast mixing and give you some concrete steps to work through with the hopes of helping you develop a consistent process that you can follow each time you mix and really fall into a groove of quality products. So far we’ve talked about my processes for recording, ingest, dynamics processing and mixing (Week 1 – Recording, Week 2 – Ingest, Week 3 – Processing, Week 4 – Mixing). This week it’s all about my major busses and master buss. Let’s get right to it!

After I’ve developed and spent some time refining it, I’ll literally get comfortable and sit back and just listen to things as they stand. I also listen to speaking parts that are mixed in as I can to make sure things feel right level wise. However, the biggest thing I do is bring in the broadcast rough edit (just the video feed from the screens before our video director has gone through and fine tuned). I do this so that I can be sure that everything I see I can hear. More than a few times I’ve been watching/listening through and caught something that I need to fix. This also provides an important chance for me to listen the entire way through a song, which if things go well, may not have happened until now for every song (I’ll usually set dynamics with the loudest and softest songs only for speed knowing fine tuning will happen later). Also, taking a break, if there is time, can be helpful here as well. Remember ear fatigue is a thing so if you’re in a time crunch, just try and take 15 minutes an hour and rest your ears. While your watching, try to have your buss compressors pulled up as well (the SSL buss compressor doing light work is really all I run on group busses). You should be able to hear plugins over-working but sometimes they get missed and as your ears get tired you may not be able to pick that out so I’ll pull up at least my 4 major buss compressors up and make sure they are behaving during the play-through. I’ll show you a picture of my screen layout for my mastering passes so you can get an idea of what I’m talking about. 

This has been the most frequently asked question I get asked…what’s on your master buss? Well, I have news for you, it’s not as cool as you might think. I try to really do my best to keep things stupidly simple and have as few duplicate tasks as possible. Right now the chain looks like this: SSL Buss Compressor, Abbey Road Mastering Chain, H-EQ, L3 Multimaximizer, and the L3 Ultramaximizer. Each has a specific purpose and when I first started things were quite different but the longer I’ve been at this, the more I’ve learned to really hone in on what these plugins do the best and really refine those. We use the SSL Buss compressor to help glue everything together (it’s really not working too hard here, no more than 3db at any given time with a slow release, pictured with the WLM Meter below). The Abbey Road plugin is doing some tape saturation, mid-side EQ, filtering, and of course the spreader is on! Note, we aren’t doing any compression with this plugin, in my experience it got a bit heavy handed which is why we brought in the SSL compressor. The H-EQ is cutting some mids out and adding some air to the mix post compression which has had a significant impact (if you don’t have something like this on your chain, just try it, you’ll thank me later). I know you’ll see the curve I use in mine but keep in mind, my setup should be a template for you, always take the time to dial it in on your own with your own content. Also, less can be more when it comes to the master buss. My curve is the result of previous EQ/dynamics choices so yours should look different. Lastly I have the successive L3s. In the past I’ve always loved putting a multiband compressor in front of a single band compressor to really refine things. I tried that here and that has really helped. The multiband allows me to do my limiting with some dynamic shape and the final L3 does the heavier limiting and also does my quantizing down to 16 bit (audio standard our video team is using, if I have to break it down to 16 bit, I’d rather do it with my specialized plugin then allow premiere to bork it all up!). 

The last two things I’m really looking into at this stage are my PAZ-Analyzer (graphically shows stereo width and phase) and WLM (both of which sit after all of the plugins listed above). While we aren’t pushing for super wide super produced music (going for more of a live broadcast feel) these two tools allow me to keep an eye on things globally. In the studio, my ears are incredibly important but since things are so much more critically heard I’ve found it’s really important to make every tool available for use in order to monitor and mix your project. With WLM, all you need to know is the LUFS that your broadcasting medium asks for. In our case we are streaming straight to YouTube. Their limiter kicks in at -13db LUFS so I set my goal to be -14 (which is something I see a lot of creators doing as well) and the peak limiter to -1 (makes sure to really get those rogue hits). The biggest thing you can do is research and research and research. Each streaming service is different so make sure you know what your service is asking for and be sure to send that because if you don’t, you can bet they will be adjusting your mix on the fly and not as cleanly as you’d hope. The best thing you can do is listen to your mix through your provider and make sure it sounds the same because if it doesn’t, it’s likely you need to adjust on your master buss.

Well that’s it for this week. Hopefully I’ve given you some creative ideas to try in your setup. If I created more questions than I answered please don’t hesitate to reach out to me below or on Facebook. I love touching base with you guys! If you’ve liked the series so far, be sure to subscribe to my blog so you can be notified when new posts go live (usually every monday). Well next week I’ll be going over what I think may be the most important step in this whole process which is “farming it out.” The peer review process, at least for me, has really helped me step up my game and make sure I’m putting out good stuff each time I bounce a mix. Until next week, happy mixing!

How To: Making a Broadcast Mix – Part 4

Welcome to week 4 of our “Making a Broadcast Mix” series. If you’ve missed the first 3 weeks you can find them at these links (Week 1 – Recording, Week 2 – Ingest, Week 3 – Processing).  This week we are going to be work on developing that first initial mix. The starting point you’ll use for each song in the set. We will also be touching on automation within your DAW. This is also when those navigation markers really start to come in handy as well. But before we dig in, during the Ingest week, 2 weeks ago, I talked about two schools of thought about the dead space in the recordings. Some prefer to chop the audio clips up while others (like me) prefer to automate a bit more to really clean up the noise floor. Either way, I like to have whichever method I do done before I start mixing so that I don’t have to stop and get those more mundane tasks out of the way. 

At this point, you’ve gotten all your clips locked in, you have the video file imported so you can keep an eye on what’s going on organically in the room, you’ve dialed in the dynamics and FX that you’re going to use and it’s finally time to get down to the brass tax. Typically I have a bit of a mix going as I dial in the dynamics of everything but this is where I really turn my ears on and listen through each song and really dial things in. If possible, I love to do this right after a significant break so that ear fatigue isn’t playing a role. The biggest thing you can do here is to use your ears. That sounds superficial but it’s really key. You are literally staring at a computer screen. It’s really easy to fall into the meter watching trap and not really listen and critique your mix. I love to just shut my eyes and sit back in my chair and start seeing what of the inputs I know are there I can hear and how they are sitting. Whatever you need to do, really do it. Take your time. It’s easy to rush through this phase so buck the trend and slow down. 

This is also a great time to talk about mix relationships. There are just some things that need to fall in place together. For instance, the kick and snare need to both blend together and have an equal attack. The bass guitar needs to either be ducked for the kick hits or leave room down in that frequency range so that both can be heard clearly. I love dialing in the guitars as well. Electric guitars, especially if there is more than one, need to both be clear and understood but not stomp on vocals. Same for acoustic guitars as well as their relationship to the piano. Pianos become the glue to your mix. They don’t need to be super present but if they aren’t there, something feels missing (that’s a great tip to remember: if something feels missing in your mix, bring up the piano and see if that solves it). The blend in the vocals is also something that is incredibly important because if it’s off, it’s really noticeable. The philosophy for how they should be mixed is often a mixed bag so make a judgement call but the key here is to make sure that if you can see it on the broadcast video, you need to hear it. That is why it is so important to mix along with the video that you’re working with.

After you’ve got that basic mix, this is where you dig into the weeds and start automating. Up until now I usually use my control surface and faders to mix so that I can respond a bit more organically but after I’ve got that initial mix and I’ve drawn in some simple automation I usually switch to the mouse and keyboard that I can easily make broader changes that may not be in real time with the mix I’m listening to. How much you automate your mix is completely up to you but just like at FOH for a live production, the more active you are, the more you respond to what the music is doing, the better things will sound (generally). I’ve included a couple pictures of the automation page from a recent mix so you can get an idea of what I do generally. You’ll see that instead of cutting the clips up I just automate faders. This helps eliminate the noise floor of unused channels but also allows for easy sync of additional tracks if they need to be dropped in. Please, don’t be afraid to reach out to me either in the comments below or on Facebook with any questions you have. I’d love to follow up with you and hopefully learn something from how you do things. If you’re looking for things to pay attention to, listen for the instrumental solos or when those guitars are playing that songs lick, ride those verb returns (especially at the beginning and ends of songs), really listen in on the BGVs, I find that I’m riding them a lot more than I am the lead singers for that song so they can be heard but not overtake the leader. Lastly check in on those mix relationships that apply to your mix during each song/element. Don’t be afraid to get started on this step and take a break for awhile or overnight if you feel like you’re stuck or things just aren’t locking in like they usually do.

That wraps it up for this week. Next week I’ll be digging into my abbreviated mastering process and standards and the format that I export with that meshes with our video team effectively. There has been a fair amount of learning while doing that has happened but I’ve landed on a consistent process. If you have any questions about this week’s or any previous post, just drop those below or on Facebook. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss out on any posts (to subscribe, follow this link). I hope you are all finding your stride and keeping busy as we are continuing through this crazy time in history. See you all on the flipside!

How To: Making a Broadcast Mix – Part 3

Here we are on week three of my series on my step by step process for creating consistent online broadcast mixes. The first week was all about the basics of recording and last week covered my ingest process. This week I’m back and finally getting to the good stuff. The mixing! This all of course presumes that you have at least a little bit of a template (I do plan to share a link to my Logic Pro Template at the end of the series). So what if you don’t have one? Well start this week and create one. When you’re done with your mix, wipe out all the project specific files and clips, all the markers and automation, and lastly, any weird routings you did for something specific, then save. You now have the groundwork for your template! Building a template progressively allows you to get more and more feedback and mix more and more projects right now, which then moves you closer and closer to a really dialed in template. I didn’t really have anything going into this but 10 or so weeks in, I’ve really got some great details sitting and waiting for me in each show thanks to my showfile. I find that EQs still need some tuning along with any multi-band processor but what it saves you is the routing for mixes and summing, built-in FX already setup, and a basic loadout of plugins assigned and loaded with a stock setup you usually end up using. That’s all I’m talking about here, don’t make it too complicated. Just have in the file whatever you find yourself doing for every mix. 

When I sit down to mix, I love to use the process I use for FOH work (maybe this hurts me but I’m proficient with it so it works for me). I love to pull up whole groups of inputs and work with them as a group (soloing when needed of course), then move onto the next group, and so on then start pulling them all together. For me, mixing is all about context. I want to hear that source in context with other relevant sources and fix problems as I hear them. Practically for me I start with the drums, listening to the relevant relationships (I’ll dive more into this next week! Click here to subscribe!) and stepping through all the inputs as I can. I do try and move pretty quick because just like in FOH work, ear fatigue is a problem. So I try and get through each group in about 15 minutes. Next is the instruments. This group can take a bit because you’ll often have to make adjustments to the dynamic EQs and harmonics of each guitar to not only suit their role in the song but help to carve out a space for each so they don’t fight for attention. This whole group should be mixed such that if you give any of them just a little boost they jump right to the top. While I include the piano in this group, often the pads and synths I lump in with tracks because of what they are for. Next is the tracks. I love this group of inputs because it’s always such an interesting blend of instruments. For me this time is less about balancing and more about listening. Often these tracks are already fully processed so you shouldn’t need much EQ or compression for their use in broadcast. If I find problems, presets can really be effective to help find solutions quickly. As I’m listening I try to make a mental note about times when these tracks should move from the background to the foreground in the mix and be sure to make that happen as I begin to automate in the next step. The last group is the vocals. I save presets for each vocal I process so that I can always have a starting place for each individual vocal. My vocal always start with a tuner (usually Waves Tune Real-Time) then into a de-esser (usually Sibliance or the Renaissance De-Esser) and it’s off to the races from there. Lately I’ve been experimenting with compression before EQ with a follow up slow and minor compressor at the end but it seems like I mix it up each time. The key is to experiment and keep trying things until things just lock in. I love using Waves Studiorack for this because it’s really easy to just move plugins around until I’m able to find what I want. All in all, I try to get through all that in about an hour or so and take a break right after (P.S. – if you didn’t already know it, they came out with a new version of StudioRack! Be sure to check it out!).

The last thing I wanted to talk about is a few quick tips and tricks I use while I’m working through this stage.  First, on all my channels is the NLS channel plugin (NLS is also found at the end of my busses as well). I use this to help glue the inputs together as a whole as the plugin works hard to manage the summing emulation as if they were all running through a console together (adds warmth and I think cohesiveness). There is some magic sauce here when used correctly (make sure not to turn the drive up to much or you’ll start hearing that noise floor). If you don’t believe me, I’d really encourage you to A/B the plug with and without and hear the difference.

Secondly, for speed, I try to keep my bussing as simple as possible. Much like at FOH, simplicity brings consistency and speed. I know guys with more complicated setups and there are times when I need to create a more robust structure to accommodate for special circumstances but I like to try and keep things as simple as possible. I have 4 buss setup for the band (drums, instruments, tracks, and vocals with any FX fed into the one that fits of these four), 3 submaster busses (Music – all the non-vocal inputs, Vocals, Speech) and those three feed into the master. Having things grouped out like this allows for easy changes to large groups of inputs which makes the mastering much quicker (in my experience and opinion)

Lastly, if you’re getting stuck and just can’t find the sound you’re looking for, delete the entire plugin chain and start over. Think logically. Start with EQ. Pull your favorite EQ and start trying out some presets to get a new vibe (I love presets for this because they aren’t what you created, someone else did so you’re always on new ground). Once you have something, think about dynamics, don’t do what you always do, pull up something new. Experimenting is the key. Use your ears and hear your way out of the problem (if need be switch to headphones or speakers or your cell phone!). One of two things always happens to me when I do this. Either you find a new and often better way to do things or you learn that your original way actually sounded pretty good. Just don’t give up, keep experimenting, it’ll lock in eventually. One thing you can always experiment with is pan (careful here). If things sound weird, pan off some of the FX or tracks to the side a bit and give your mix some depth. I love using the PAZ-Analyzer to check the width of my mix.

Well that’s about it for this week, I was already a bit longer than I wanted but hopefully it has been a helpful read. As always if you have any questions sound off in the comments below or on Facebook. Next week I’ll be going over some of the ways I dial in a mix for broadcast and how I manage multiple songs that will be played back to back using automation. I’ll also be digging into mix relationships as well and talking about ways I mitigate bleed (especially in the drums). Sign up at this link to subscribe to the blog and you’ll get an email when that goes live! Remember we are all in this together, see you next week!