Mixing and Mastering
With everything now recorded and all the synth tracks bounce down to audio files it was time to start the mixing process and get everything sounding like how I wanted. I used the Fulgore Killer Instinct track again as my reference for relative levels and sonic characteristics in my mixing, this acted as a rough guide to try and keep me on the right path.
The sound I had in mind for this track was for it to be predominately focused around the electric guitars and have them in the forefront of the mix with the synths reinforcing the guitars. The kick and snare will be prominent in the mix as well acting as a driving force that helps set the feel of the track, this is also the case in the reference track as well.
Before I get into my mixing process I will discuss my session setup and initial approach. I mixed this track 100% in the box, which means only using a DAW and plugins on a computer. I did this because it gives me the freedom to mix at home without needing to go into a studio and use limited outboard analogue gear and a mixing console. I also have a variety of plugins that I have purchased for the purpose of mixing at home so it would be a shame if I didn't use them.
I like to have my sessions nicely organised as to help my work flow, I colour code all my tracks and set up individual AUX and VCA masters for each group of tracks e.g. Drums, Bass, Guitars.
As you can see in the image above I have all the drums tracks in red, the bass in yellow, the guitars in green, the synths in light blue, and a couple of FX tracks in orange, they are all being sent to a master AUX track which is sent to a Print track, both in dark reds. All of the AUX tracks are in pink and the VCA tracks are in dark blue, this helps to give my session a little bit of uniformity and means I can see and jump to specific tracks easier. For example if I want to process the two bass tracks as a whole, I know they are both in yellow so I look for their AUX track which is in pink below them, simple.
So why do I use AUX and VCA tracks, they basically give me the ability to process each section and move/automate their volume as a whole. I didn't send the synth through to an AUX track because all of the sounds are so different I thought they wouldn't process well together. Also the reason why I use a AUX master is so I can put mastering chain plugins on during the mixing process to better understand how the track will sound in the end and I can make prints of the track to catalogue my progress. I also used side parallel compression on the drums and guitars but more about that later.
The Mixing Process
DrumsI usually start with getting a rough drum sound first as they are the foundation and main rhythmic elements in songs, especially metal songs. I knew I wanted the Kick and Snare to be the loudest and punchiest aspects of the drum sound so I stated my mixing approach with the aim of trying to achieve that.
To initially create the drum sounds I used a program called Addictive Drums, see image below.
This software is triggered by MIDI information that I programmed in the scratch track. What handy about this plugin is that you can send out each individual sound (Kick, Snare, Toms, OH, Room) to their own audio tracks simulating an actual recorded drum session. This makes processing MIDI drums easier and allows me to use plugins and automation on each track separately.
I wasn't completely happy the Kick and Snare sound this plugin had so I used Steven Slates Trigger 2 drum sampling program over those two tracks to try and create something better (yes I used an already sampled drum sound to trigger another sampled drum sound, ridiculous really when I think about it). The cool thing about Trigger 2 is that you can blend together multiple samples to shape and create your perfect Kick or Snare tone, below is an image of the sounds I used to create the Kick.
Now that I had better starting sounds it was time to start mixing. I used relatively little processing on the drum tracks just compression and EQ. For the Kick I used the Waves CLA-76 compressor with a slow attack and really fast release to help bring out and accentuate the initial click sound, I played around with the Ratio and Input level until it sounded the most musical to me. For the Snare I used the Waves RCompressor in much the same way, relatively slow attack and fast release and Threshold and Ratio until it sounded like what I wanted. I used the the Waves REQ6 for both, the Kick I boosted 115Hz and 3.9Khz to help shape and beef up its tone whilst cutting the Lows, Highs, and low mid around 460hz to make the focus of the sound in those two boosted areas. For the snare I notched out a couple of frequencies that I didn't like at around 350Hz, 680Hz, and 2.8Khz, and boosted 5.1Khz to help bring out the snares attack, I also cut some of the low end to limit low frequency build up. See image below of Kick and Snare plugins.
As the Toms sounded alright and they are only really in one part of the song I didn't do any processing to them just levelling and panning. Next was the Hats, OH, and Room, I didn't want these tracks to be prominent in the mix so I used just enough compression to squash their dynamics so that when I set their levels nothing come through louder then what I want. I also cut the low end again in all of the tracks to stop the low frequencies from building up to much and cut frequencies in places that sounded good to me. See image below for more details.
Lastly I set up a parallel compression track that was sent all of the drums tracks (except of the Room track) just to help beef up the drum sound in general, especially the Toms seeing as I didn't use any processing on their individual tracks. The main goal for this track was to really bring out the Kick and Snare sound more so that's why I boosted the EQ in roughly the same place as the Kick, I also cut the lows, highs, and a lot of the mids to again accentuate the boosted frequencies. See image below of settings. I'm also using a lot of compression with a faster Attack and high Ratio and Threshold to help bring out the body of the drum sound. I then blended this track in with the overall drum sound until it sounded nice and big, punchy, and fat. See image below for plugins used.
The guitars are made up of two different mic sounds an SM57 and a MD421 for both the left and right guitars which are hard panned. Due to the fact that the guitars are tuned so low with them having 8 strings its necessary to remove the low end as not to muddy up the track with low frequencies. I listen to each mic individually and used an EQ to notch out a couple other unwanted frequencies, see image below.
I then blended the two mics together on each side to create the tone I wanted. From there I used compression and EQ on their respective AUX tracks and I used roughly the same settings for both of them. I used a relatively fast Attack and Release settings on guitar compressors to squash the initial transients a little and create a more even guitar tone. I didn't set the Ratio or Threshold to high just enough to keep everything in check. For the EQ I put a high pass filter on again just to make sure none of the low end was coming through, I also notched out a couple more frequencies in the low mid range that were making the guitars sound a little muddy around 130Hz and 350/400Hz. I boosted the high end of the Right guitar around 5.8Hz because I felt like it sounded too different from the Left guitar track which had a lot more high end presence so I used this boost to try and compensate for that. See image below of for plugins used.
To make the guitar sound stand out even more and help glue them together I used some parallel compression again. I used a high Ratio with a medium/fast Attack and Release to really squash the guitar sound and make it sound big when for I blend it with the main guitars. Again I also removed the low end frequencies, notched some of the low/low mid frequencies and boosted a little of the high mid. I did this to make it sound more aggressive and not be muffled by the low and mid range, see image below for plugins used.
I then began blending the guitar sound with the drums.
Later in the mixing process I felt that the guitars could be a bit punchier and wider so I used a Mid/Side plugin called centre and a stereo widener to slightly increase the separation of the two guitar tracks, see image below.
The bass synth track was fairly simple to process, I just blended the two different sounds together then used compression and EQ on the AUX track. For the compression I used a fast Attack and medium Release to reduce some of the initial transients and make the sound more even, the Ratio was relatively low as I didn't want to squash the sound too much. I removed a little of the sub bass frequencies to reduce low end build up, I also removed some of the lows and low mid around 120Hz and 580Hz so the track doesn't compete too much with the frequencies of the Kick and Guitars, and a low pass filter because I didn't like its high end sound. See image below for plugins used.
From there I blend the track in with the Drums and Guitars until I could just hear it as not to take away clarity from either of them. In hindsight I probably could have had the level of this track a little louder.
The synths didn't need much work either, again just simple compression and EQ to make them fit in with all the other elements and not to take away from the Guitars which are the main focus in the track. Most of the compressors on the tracks have a relatively fast Attack and medium/long Release to help keep their dynamics even and to stop sudden peaks that could take away from the guitars. See image below for the compressors used.
As for the EQs they all follow the same trend of removing the low end as not to have to much low frequencies build up, and from there just removing or boosting other frequencies that I felt made them sound better with the other elements in the track. See image below for EQs used.
From here I did final volume adjustments of all the tracks and fiddling with the EQ to make everything sound as best as I could, after that I moved onto mastering.
Mastering the track
Now, I don't have a great deal of experience with mastering so I did a little bit of research to work out how best to approach it, I took some ideas from multiple places and built this mastering chain, see below.
So whats going on in these images, firstly I have a gain plugin that I used to increase the whole level of the track slightly to give me a healthier level to start mastering with. I also made sure there was no clipping at any point in the track when I did this. After that I went into the Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machine to give the track some analogue character and help glue everything together, from there it goes a Waves EQ where I did minor cuts to some of the lows and mids and boosted the highs help the clarity of the track. I then used a tiny bit of stereo widening with the Waves S1 to make the track feel like it has just a little more space. From there I used the Waves C4 multiband compressor to tame the low mid and mid frequencies a little in the aim of making the track sound tighter and more focused. Then lastly I used the Slate Digital Virtual Mastering console where I used a little bit of compression again with a medium Attack and a medium/fast Release with a Ratio of 2:1 and reducing the overall gain only by 1db to help glue the whole track together more but without quashing the track too much. After that I used the preset limiter settings for hard mastering because I believe they sounded the best then I slowly began to increase the overall gain until I was getting an RMS of around -10/9db, because metal needs to be loud.
After that I printed the track and had a beer to celebrate.
I am relatively happy with the outcome of the track, I can hear everything that I want to hear. I feel like I want to guitars to sound a little better than what they are but at this point in my Audio career I'm not sure how to achieve the ideal sound I have in my head. I also noticed that one of my synth tacks which was meant to be panned slightly to the left was dead in the centre, an oversight that I am disappointed about but shows that I still need to pay more attention in my mixing sessions. Also for a first attempt of mixing electric guitars and synths together I feel like I managed to get a decent balance between them and definitely know a lot more for if/when I come to make something like this again.
Side note, I have also realised that I have called the drum and guitar parallel compression side chain compression in the session, would help if I could get my terminologies right.