Mixing First Aid For EDM

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Mixing First Aid For EDM

In this tutorial, I will show you a simple and very basic mixing technique/approach which may help you to create ok sounding mixes. I’m using it every time I mix my own music and I’ve been quite satisfied with the end results. (If you’ve been watching my tutorials, you’ve probably seen me using it many times.)


Here’s an example. Mixed with this technique.

This technique is no secret: it’s the very first step you take in the mixing process, but very important nonetheless. And I’m talking about setting the volume levels between different sounds in balance.

When you make music and are in the middle of inspiration, you probably throw in all kinds of sounds and instruments to the mix and set their volume levels roughly in balance (at least that’s what I usually do). And the mix may already sound quite alright at this point.

However, the following method MAY help you to make it sound even better.

Try this: at some point in your producing session, take a short break to let your ears rest & recover a bit. This is important because hours of continuous music listening (especially on higher volume levels) makes your ears (or brains) tired and you just don’t hear things in the same way you do when your ears are “fresh”.

Next, after the break, get back to your mix and leave your kick drum volume level to 0.0dB, but drop all the other instrument volume levels to INF (silent).

Kick to 0, Others To INF

Play back your mix (only kick playing) and adjust the volume levels of your monitors (or headphones) so that you can hear the kick clearly.

Next, start increasing the volume levels of your other percussion sounds: clap/snare for example. If you have a standard four-to-the-floor beat where the clap/snare is hitting on every other beat, listen it against the kick and increase it’s volume level so that you can hear the clap/snare clearly, while not letting it go over or drown the kick. Make sure you can still hear the ‘snap’ of your kick and that the whole kick is still the most prominent sound in your mix.

Mix In Snare

Of course, you need to let your ears to be the final judge how you set the exact levels. But listening everything against the kick is a good basis.

Also, if you wonder: why drop the sounds to INF and start mixing from there and why not just start straight from the rough mix and decrease the levels when needed? Well, it might be easier approach for your ears. Of course, you can mix anyway you feel comfortable with, but I’ve personally found I get better results doing it this way. I think mixing from silent to louder makes it easier for your hearing/brains to adjust to the changes and stay in balance than doing the opposite. At least try it.

Now, while this tutorial is focusing just on the volume levels, I DID use a little EQ on the clap/snare sound. I rolled off the low end and boosted the mids and highs with the mixer track EQ.

Snare EQ

Ok, back to the subject.

Continue mixing in your percussion sounds: closed hihat perhaps. How loud your closed hihat should be? Again, listen it against your kick. Set it to a level where it is supporting your kick instead of competing with it.

Mix In Closed Hihat

After your kick and percussion sounds are in balance, you might want to mix in your bassline.

Bass is one of the hardest elements to mix in EDM because it is usually working largely in the same frequency area as your kick. But even so, you need to begin by setting it’s volume level. Again, focus on listening your kick and increase the bassline level to the point where you can hear it clearly, but not letting it take over the kick.

Mix In The Bass

Now this is where you usually may encounter a problem: as the bassline is probably the next most important thing alongside kick in EDM, you would like it to be heard clearly in the mix, but if it’s a low end heavy bass sound and you raise it’s volume level too much, it will mash with the kick and you experience all kinds of artifacts such as loosing the punch, muddy low end, clipping, etc. This is where you usually need to start consider whether to use sidechain compression, EQ, change your bass sound to something different, etc.

Here’s a one way to cope with this without using tons of EQ or compression: pay attention to how you sequence your bassline. Don’t place a note to places where your kick hits. Here’s an image of an example sequence (this is the sequence I am using in this example song):

Bass Sequence

And as you noticed, I didn’t use sidechain compression or any other methods in the basslines mixer track at all. Just a certain type of sequence and setting the volume level in balance with the kick was enough.

Next: the (possible) supporting sounds for the bassline. Of course, you may don’t have those in your mix, but often times you may layer sounds played on higher notes and other sounds with a very light low end or no low end at all on top of your bass sound to make the bass melody to be more prominent. How to mix these kind of sounds? Again, listen to the kick, but this time also pay attention to your bassline. Don’t let the supporting sounds take over your kick and bassline. Make them support.

Mix In Supporting Sounds For Bass

Next, the lead sound/melody (if you have one, but usually there’s some sort of dominant melody theme line in the mix). How to mix that? If it’s something that is essential part of your song, don’t leave it on the background. Instead, bring it on front. So again, while listening to your kick, try to bring the lead on a par with it while avoiding burying it.

Mix In The Lead

Now, while you mix, you might experience clipping in your Master track. If that happens, just drop the Master track volume level fader few dB’s and increase the volume of your monitors/headphones to compensate.

If It Clips, Drop The Master Level

So in a nutshell: finding the balance between the sound volume levels in your mix is very important. Often times, if you have choosed a right set of sounds and samples, you may don’t need to do a lot of EQ’ing or other processing to make your mix sound good. And remember, try mix everything against your kick. Let the kick rule!

Watch the video version below and download the .flp file:

Download Mixing First Aid .flp (Requires FL Studio 11.0.4 or later to open properly. Note that you are free to use the .flp project any way you like!)

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HowToMakeElectronicMusic.com (HTMEM) – A music production website with plenty FL Studio tutorials, interviews, news, free music production tips, and free downloads.

34 Comments

  1. Must say men this tut came at the right tym…. coz am just in the middle of making a dancehall mixtape
    Thx alot coz i was tryna figure out this part.
    lots O Gratitude

  2. BTW didn’t knw dat sidechain could be used to balance da bassline /make it sound out,
    plus da tip about ”reducing master sound channel and adding speaker sound”
    Thumbs up

  3. One of the clearest and well presented website.
    Thanks for your tutorials… subscribed!

  4. Here’s one of my tracks called “Psytrance” http://sendfile.pl/130211/Bucio_-_Psytrance.mp3

    The name may be wrong, because it’s not typical psychodelic trance, but… it’s some kind of EDM for sure 😉

    Big thanks to You Petri. I learned a lot from your tutorials. What’s best about them is that they are explained very simply and most od the sounds are made with basic plugins from scratch

    You make mostly EDM but tips & tricks from EDM can also be useful in other genres – it’s great thing too

  5. DJ Stella on

    Really great job here. Excellent info, all presented in a realistic and friendly way. Nice work! Thanks a ton for making it available. Cheers!

  6. Hi petri …tnx for your fantastic works….everytime i read your tut it enlights me so bad ;)!!!
    would you plz do me (us) a favor and explain about “main key” of a song and how to lengthen the track
    i can make somewhat good beats and chords but i’m so weak to continue the song and always its about 30 to 40 seconds…stuck!!!..love u bro 😉

  7. Hello Petri,
    I have to tell that your tutorials are very good and its so harmonic, the way you use the screenshots and the text its simple and well arranged.
    Appreciate the technique and sure i’ll try it, in theory its better to mix from quiet to louder, it gives your ears some room. Let’s try the action.

    Petri, this website was the way I could join the world of music production, I have to thank you so much for the priceless job youve been doing here!

    Thanks for another one!

    Greetings from Brazil

  8. Great tips as usual. Petri, your website is a first aid in general for edm. Glad to come back every once in awhile and still find you going strong.

  9. Do not mix with the kick at 0db. Give yourself at least 6db of headroom. I understand that your DAW might have some extra headroom, but not only that it’s a very bad practice, but also a lot of chain effects don’t respond well to a signal that is over a DB. Also check your levels between your chains.

    • Dimitry,

      Thanks for your comment, but could you explain why is it a bad practice? Where do you base your claim exactly? And what do you mean by check your levels between your chains?

    • I don’t think so, Jay. It doesn’t matter what’s your approach on mixing if the end result sounds good. That’s what counts in audio production.

  10. @ Petri Suhonen

    you are doing everything right,but you are explaining little bit wrong.. when you say you start mixing
    kick 0 db.. thats not right ..your starting point is – 8 db.. if u see in corner… in mixer channel you are 100 % or 0 db,but in pattern channel your volume is much lower 79 % = -8 db.

    there are some rulls about mixing.. you cant start 0 db ,cause u dont have headroom if u do that.
    that means when you start mixing the kick must be – 6 or lower other instruments must be under the kick,and some of them around like bass..etc kick is allways the dominant of a song.kick and vocal.

    • Hey Alboz,

      And thanks for your comment.

      To your first comment: in the tutorial, I’m talking about setting the Mixer volume slider value itself to 0.0dB. The idea was to show how to mix other instruments in relation with the kick. But you’re right about the default Step Sequencer Channel volume (though it’s actually 78% which is -5.2dB). So actually, the real starting level (assuming it’s Mixer track is set to 0.0dB) is the amplitude of the kick drum sample (which can be anything) minus -5.2dB. But you’re right, I could have mentioned that in the tutorial. However, that doesn’t change the core idea of this mixing method.

      To your second comment: I disagree. I think the -6dB rule is a relic from the days before modern DAWs (?) The thing is, if you mix in a DAW (whether it’s FL Studio, Ableton Live, etc) there’s PLENTY of headroom (almost unlimited amount) thanks to the 32-bit floating point system. So whether you are setting the Mixer track level to 0.0dB or -6dB doesn’t make a difference. If your Master channel clips, just drop it’s volume level and you’re all set.

      I’ve been using this mixing method for a long, long time and clipping and distortion has NEVER been a problem.

  11. but what if you have automated volume levels in the project you cant turn that all to 0 if you know what i mean

    • David- having automated levels is super common in EDM. Best workaround I’ve seen for this is to automate your levels using a plugin with an output control, so your channel levels can be set for mixing.

  12. Petri you’re the best, I use so much of your techniques. And you all do this to help us out. You sir, deserve the Noble price ^^

  13. Excellent tutorial!! Only one piece of input…

    You mention using your kick drum as the reference point and to set that kick at 0dB before moving faders. You also went on to say that if your master is clipping to just pull down the master fader. Sure, these techniques may help but sometimes you’ll still have clipping on bus mixes. IMO the reference, i.e. kick drum, should start around -6dB or so to insure proper head room at the end. Follow all the same steps but with lower levels so you can pump it up in mastering.

    Like I said, nice tutorial. Just wanted to mention my approach in case someone finds it useful.

    • Hey Chris,
      And very much thanks for your input!

      That -6dB approach on mixing is very common and it works so no problem there at all.

      However (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!), the risk of clipping in the final mixdown when you’re working on a 32-bit or 64-bit environment is very VERY small. If your bus is clipping, lowering the Master channel level should solve that too.

      OR export your mix as 32-bit WAV and normalize it and voila: the clipping is gone.

      However, there IS a risk that some plugins (usually those that are badly programmed) can clip INTERNALLY if you send a too hot signal into them.

      Cheers!

  14. It is a valid mixing strategy, but this article assumes that the kick is the rhythmic “home base” of the mix, so to speak. While that is true for most EDM, there are some styles of music that have the bassline or some other rhythmic element loudest, because it is what drives the mix forward. The point is to find the focus of your song, and let everything else compliment it, not compete with it.

  15. Mihin kohtaan laittaisit efektit? Samalle tasolle muiden supporttaavien soundien kanssa?

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