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The Mixdown - How to Eliminate Clipping + Maximize Headroom

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The "Mixdown"

A lot of frustration can be avoided by doing things right from the beginning. Here is a typical scenario for a lot of producers... You've put together this dope track that you're proud of and now you are ready to finalize it with a mix. You realize that your beat is clipping pretty bad so you throw EQ's, limiters or a compressor on it to make sure it doesn't distort once you export it. WRONG MOVE... adding EQ and compression is only half the battle. You'll see why below... Remember...they don't call it the "Mix down" for no reason.

Proper Mixes Don't Clip

If you take a look at the chart above, you'll see the standard levels for

  • tracking/recording,
  • your overall mix level
  • the final master level

If you are doing any live instrument recording, a good rule of thumb is to record at -10 db. This is also a good level to set your plugins and virtual instruments. Use your judgement and your ear to determine whether or not -10 db is too low or too high for the instrument you are recording or performing.

Your overall mix should not exceed -6 db to -5db. However, you never want to use the master fader to simply turn down all of your tracks to -6db. The sum of all of the instruments in your mix should peak at -6 db while the master fader is at 0 db. This can easily be achieved by producing your music at the proper tracking levels. Here is a big tip... Many plugins are simply too loud and need to be turned down in order to fit in a mix. If you produce at the right levels, you don't have to worry about going back and turning things down to fit inside of the -6 db range.

So your max peak range of -6 db will give your track headroom which will allow your track to breath. Now the sounds are not all peaking at the maximum of the sound spectrum fighting for space. Now your track is ready for mastering.

Mastering

Once you have a solid and balanced mix (proper levels, no clashing frequencies, proper panning and stereo image) you are ready to master your track. Now mastering is simply processing done over the entire track to enhance the listening experience and fit a certain standard. Mastering is where you will also set your volume level to industry standard using limiting or compression.

Now days, music is much louder than it used to be so naturally you want to compete and make your music just as loud. This is done 9 times out of 10 using a limiter. Using a limiter correctly will give your track the loudness you are lacking from a mix at -6 db. Your limiter should be the very last effect on your master track. You want to set the ceiling to -1 db or 0 db and you want to lower the threshold until you see -3 to -4 db of attenuation. The over use of a limiter can really squash your sound so be sure not to over use your limiter.

Keep in mind, as a producer/beatmaker, you are only creating half of the masterpiece. The other half is the vocal so when you master a beat, it should only be for listening purposes and not for recording vocals. Typically, you would deliver a good mix for recording and the mastering would be done on the music and the vocal as a whole.

Keep grinding, Keep having fun!
Peace!
The Tru-Urban Team



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