What is a good mix or master?

Hi,

In listening to some of the really good tracks posted here on Made with Cubase, on Soundcloud – everywhere. I’m seeking to understand what it is about them that makes them as good as they are? A lot of people who post here and elsewhere are doing excellent, every bit as good, in some cases, as the work of the A-list, name artists, and so many different styles. But, common to many is really solid sound engineering and production technique.

In the good tracks it seems like the whole song or piece is setting in a wonderful kind of “sonic bubble.” What is that “sonic bubble”? It’s not just overall level, it seems more about how the track’s frequency distribution is being handled, but I’m sure it’s much more? I feel like I’m almost about to hit a new plateau with my work, but, I’m not quite there.

So, the question is, what is it that brings a mix to that wonderful sonic space, that “sonic bubble?” Do I need some critical plug-ins for Mastering that I don’t have? Any thoughts are welcome. Thanks.

Your question is gigantic.

yep

I suppose the first things you need are a good set of ears and a musicians brain?

Without those no amount of plug ins will help!!

Jim B

Getting it right from the start…

All good answer and actually helpful.

I’ve often felt that when someone says, “I know what I mean, but can’t explain it.” They really don’t know what they mean. If they did, they’d be able to explain it. So, I think my post shows some of that cloudiness in my own thinking. I feel like while I do understand the basics regarding – Levels, EQ, Compression, Effects, Panning – I’m missing a way to characterize what the attributes or properties of a those good mixes I’m hearing are. The frequency spectrum is so well plotted out. Even on a spare mix – solo voice, percussion and guitar – there seems to be a sound pressure level present in even the moments when only a single wood-block is being heard. It’s as if there’s a ‘grand silence’ and the music is being placed within that space. Almost like putting a ball into a bowl. The Ball is the final mix, the production tracks, the mix, but the bowl seems like magic to me.

Anyway, sometimes language is perhaps too important to me. However, I find that if I can name it and find some patterns of practice for using – a piece of gear, a chain of processing, an effects technique – I’m able to get good sounding material.

As I think more about it, I guess could say tracking is OK, the mixing is sort of OK but needs a lot of improvement, but taking an acceptable Mix to a “clean and polished final” is where I’m struggling. The last step seems almost magical to me, but I know that the root of it is good engineering, well-trained ears, good external monitoring and the right tools for the job. Cubase Pro 9 has a lot of the right tools, but perhaps not some critical items?

Given that I have limits, both technically and experientially, I wonder how far I should expect to go with what I have, or when is it time to say – “this isn’t working, I need a better space to make it happen,” or, "I really need the XYZ plug-in package to do “that,” or, “just keep going.” Or all of those. :slight_smile:

And so it goes, thanks and take care for now.

My journey to perfecting mixing and mastering came down to adjusting levels and memorizing the numbers of my group tracks. EQ, compression, gate, limiter and having a good recording to work with.

It’s like having a mixing template in your brain and making minor adjustments from project to project.
So far this approach has worked great for me. I also compare my mixes with my favourite music to see if I’m in the zone and make adjustments.

I often go back and forth between final mix and master until I’m happy.

REVERB.

Edit: getting it right that is.

Post your specific questions to the ones you like over there. Nobody over there isn’t willing to explain what they did, and discuss pros and cons, and tweaks. We’re all learning from each other. It’s a good supportive group.

I’m getting there with the concept of having such a “template.” I find if I can articulate something, if I can name it, and I can then produce it. In the old days, you had the multi-track and then the final mixes on tape. With digital audio, the inputs and outputs are digital files and, as such, contain no actual sound and only contain information that describes sound. So, in a final mix or master file that sounds great, what are its properties? I feel like if I can clearly articulate what I’m hearing, regardless of program (style, genre, etc), I’ll more likely be able to accomplish something similar. Someone was discussing a similar idea in another post and he kept saying, “cubase can do it.”

The thing is, I don’t want to be banging my head on the wall, searching for capabilities inside of Cubase that are readily available with some commonly used items that the program doesn’t offer. If the answer to a question is, “in theory you could do X,Y or Z in Cubase like this, but in common use, I reach for (fill-in name of gear or software).” I’m all for making the most of what I have, but I also don’t want to use a Rube Goldberg Cubase-contraption, when Item X is really what’s needed. For now, I’m concentrating on making better use of what I have, I just don’t want to find that I’ve been chasing my own tail or gnawing at a brick wall I didn’t have to. Hard to know.

Thanks for the good advice. The work continues :slight_smile:

Yes, those really good tracks have perfect reverb. That is certainly part that sonic space I’m trying to characterize for myself. I’ll work on that aspect some more. I think I’m sometimes too timid with Reverb and FX.

I think Cubase has all the tools to make great recordings, mixes and masters. I compare my mixes/masters with music on iTunes and find that Cubase does a good job for the money in all fairness. Keep in mind some egineers use very expensive plugins and some of my favourite artists music/mixes are not in the same genre.

More or less electronic. More or less compression. More or less reverb/fx.

I’m also very conservative with FX considering that I produce a genre of electronic music but I like it tight. I find a lot of music use a lot of reverb/fx these days. Especially pop, EDM, Nu Rock artist. It’s 2017 don’t be shy :nerd: Be careful with stacking fx. You could get some strange unwanted artifacts. EQ is also important.

Mixing and mastering are another set of skills, expertise, education on top of playing an instrument, vocals and knowing Cubase like a Pro :smiley:

Stock Cubase plugins sound great, what you’re usually buying with aftermarket stuff is accessability and convenience.

I feel like I’m on a similar journey. I guess most of us here are.

Your question is really about how to be a good/great producer. The gear is almost beside the point. An accomplished chef can produce a delicious meal in an ordinary home kitchen, but a novice cook can’t do the same in the best equipped kitchen in the world. Cubase is a very fine kitchen. I suggest looking at forums and websites dedicated to production. It doesn’t hurt to read threads on forums for other DAWs. Youtube has some great stuff, such as the 5 drivers of mixing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eUOfinvxH4

The narrator/producer of this kind of tutorial will point out sounds that you may not notice. You might not be able to hear what they mean even after they’ve pointed it out and demonstrated the “before and after” versions. Which brings up the topic of technical ear training. I’ve found that Jason Corey’s book helped me get on a faster track.

https://books.google.com/books/about/Audio_Production_and_Critical_Listening.html?id=eD7UDAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=false

Basically, it’s like learning to play piano. You need a practice routine that involves scooping up advice from people who know more than you, experimenting with these ideas on your own recordings, and doing some technical ear training exercises. And like learning the piano, it’ll take a while to become fluent.

^^^^ Colin’s food analogy is pretty spot on… The best chefs perfect their cuisine through many repetitions and variations.

Now, I am hungry, so off to lunch. :sunglasses:

Thanks for that comment. I think the Cubase plug-ins sound great, too. I just don’t want to be hitting my head on the wall trying to extract something from the CU 9 plug-in suite when, all the while, I should just be saving up my pennies for Program or plug-in X. I’m trying to take things as far as I can go with what I have, but, I also want to know what I should be aiming for. Sort of like knowing where where a certain threshold is, if you will. Take care.

@ColinPark
@NorthWood MediaWorks

Colin, thanks for the links and comment and good links. The book on Critical Listening is exactly on target. Just skimming over the introduction and table of contents I can tell it is addressing the exact kinds of things I need to be working on. For anyone who didn’t see the link to the book, I’ll repeat it here.

Audio Production and Critical Listening: Technical Ear Training
By Jason Corey
https://books.google.com/books/about/Audio_Production_and_Critical_Listening.html?id=eD7UDAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=false

The forums have been a very helpful part of my process. The work continues. :slight_smile:

carrying on the food analogy, the very best dishes are made with the best of ingredients.

The truth is a copy of Cubase Pro has more options and better sound quality (no unintended loss of quality though the mixing process) than multi million pound professional studios of 20 years ago. Of course what you get in a studio is (often) a great sounding room - which is hard to emulate. A lot of 1980s stuff sounds thin and splashy - or muffled as hell - all this mixed through “legendary” consoles. Any decent producer could produce tracks on cubase with stock plugs which are indistinguishable (to the average punter) from any other top track. It’s all about learning to use your ears and learning your tools to find the sound you’re looking for. The other truth is a well played catchy song can defy crappy production or sound quality, however a dull song is still dull no matter how well recorded or produced.

Thanks for the comment. It really is an excellent set of features we have in Cubase Pro 9. The more I get to know them the more I like them. The ear training part has been a very interesting process, sometimes frustrating, other times really amazing. It’s an on-going process.