Ableton Production Q & A
As many of you know, I encourage my readers to email me with any questions they have regarding Ableton or production. Often the questions are too specific to be helpful to many others, but I do also get some questions worth sharing. I’m sure many of you have run into these issues as well, so this post is for you.
1) What can I do to stop having my tracks sound so Muddy?
Typically a muddy mix means poor EQing skills or a poor understanding of how frequencies work in a mix. Many new producers tend to overdo it on the bass either by layering bass & kicks together, or trying to add a little bass to each sound. This seem like a logical approach for big sounding bass in your song, but actually the opposite is true.
For Clean low hitting bass you want 1 kick drum to add thump & one bass to add sub. If both your kick & bass have sub, you’ll likely want to use sidechain compression to “duck” the sub by a few db when the kick hits. You can layer more bass sounds or kicks, but you’ll want to roll off the low frequencies on these layers & use them more for the mid & high frequencies that help them cut through the mix.
Next, make sure to roll off all frequencies below 120hz besides kick & bass, and if you have individual sounds that still sound a bit muddy, try lowering frequencies in the 250-550hz range. When you find the spot the sound should be cleaner & a bit punchier.
2. How can I create 3 dimensional space in my track, where every track has its own sonic space and sounds great when played in cars, on headphones, etc? My tracks always sound flat.
Again, EQing is extremely important. You don’t want multiple sounds taking up the same frequencies. Sometimes panning can help a lot, but other times you have to reduce a frequency on one sound so the other sound is more clear. Also, use different reverbs on different sounds some short, some longer (don’t overdo this), this can help create space.
Understand that not every sound is the start player, so you need to know which sounds need to be upfront & which need to sit back in the mix. Trying to make everything loud & upfront is not only an assault on the senses, it will make you mix sound flat. When everything is loud, nothing is loud.
By rolling off some if the high frequencies, certain sounds with appear to be further way. Also, the size of reverb space will certainly effect where it sits in a mix. Be sure to cut the low frequency on reverb or you could re-introduce mud.
Also, try to make sure each sound has a purpose. it’s very easy to end up with 10 sounds all in the same frequency range (often the mid range). When this happens, you’ll need to either get rid of some or make sure they aren’t playing at the same time. You may also try to bring a sound up or down an octave so it is taking up a different frequency range that isn’t cluttered with sounds.
Finally, listen to other songs to see what elements are necessary & which might not be. Less is more.
3) Can you provide any tips to mixing in Ableton?
The ableton arrangement window is really not much different than most other DAWs when it comes to mixing. You will, however find your mixer in the session view (simply hit the tab key to access it). That said, you can adjust your volume & edited any kind of automation you can imagine from the arrangement view.
I typically start by mixing groove elements first, then bass & then mix the supporting elements. When mixing a sound, it’s important to listen to all the other sounds more than the one you are mixing, this way you can hear when it starts to intrude on other sounds. If you always focus on the sound you are mixing, you will almost always turn it up too loud.
Drawing in your automation can also give you dynamic control, as most sound aren’t just going to stay at one level throughout the song, except the groove elements.
If you mix a sound in and suddenly lose the groove & notice other sounds are getting lost, this may inform you to either keep the sound lower in volume, or lower a frequency with EQ that is fighting with your other sounds.
4) What kind of template can I set up in my Ableton Projects where I can have the cleanest and clearest sounding tracks??
From my experience, you aren’t going to find a “one template fits all” situation. If it were that easy, nobody would ever hire mixing engineers. The fact is that every song is different & requires different techniques to get a great sounding mix.
You can certainly create a template for your kick drums with the EQ, Compression & effect chain you like & use that as a starting point for your tracks. Same goes for bass, there is no reason not to re-use great sounds to get started on new tracks & tweak them as you go. I do this all the time & it makes my songwriting process much faster.
A great mix is really about your reductive EQing. The more you can get rid of from each sound (without removing it’s most important frequencies), the more clean and spacious your song can sound.
Think of your song sound as a box that can only fit so much before it gets messy & overflows. Not enough in there & the box gets unbalanced & lopsided. you want to fill your songs from left to right, from low to high & front to back.
This all might seem like a lot to take in, but just like driving, the more you make music, the more this will all become second nature to you.
Have any questions you would like addressed in a future blog post? Leave it in the comments section!
Happy music making,