At Digital Media Academy’s Academy for Music & Video Production, students compose and record an original song, mix and master it, and create a music video and DVD to accompany the music. At DMA tech camps, students use the best software tools for the job. First, let’s talk a bit about mixing music in Logic Pro, the audio software DMA uses.
Logic Pro is one of the industry-standard audio software packages used in recording studios. Logic is easier to learn than many of the other programs, but it is just as versatile and powerful.
Mixing & Mastering
There are several steps to recording a song. First, you write the song, and decide what instruments will play which parts. Then, you record the parts, and input those parts for the software instruments. After that, you mix and master the song.
Mixing is mainly just setting the volume levels of different instruments so they sound good together. When you go to a concert, the engineer standing in front of that huge board somewhere in the back-center of the audience is the sound mixer. In that case, the mixer only gets one shot at mixing it right, since they are mixing a live show. Recording studios are great because we have plenty of time to get the song to sound exactly the way we want it to sound. (And if something sounds entirely wrong, we can just re-record it!)
We can also use automation to simulate live mixing. If we have a guitar solo, we can push the guitar’s volume slider up to make it louder, and then pull it back down after the solo is over. Automation lets us do this automatically exactly the same, every time we play our song.
Tricks of the Trade
There are other tricks we can use. When we record an artist playing or singing a part, we call that a “take.” We usually record several takes so we can get the best one. If none of them are perfect, we can actually stitch multiple takes together and use the best parts from each take. For example, if the guitarist botched one chord, but the rest of the take was perfect, we can substitute in a chord from another take to fix it. Logic makes splicing clips together very easy. In the project pictured below, we had two substandard takes, so I used different parts of each take to create a better one. (You can hear the song at the bottom of this post).
We can also add Equalization to a track. “EQ” lets us change the volume of specific ranges of frequencies. In other words, if the vocalist’s track sounds “muddy,” we can boost the higher frequencies and take down the lower ones to increase the clarity of the voice. If we have a high-pitched whine in the background, we can take out just the offending frequency.
Here are some examples of problems we can fix by mixing the song. I recorded this song with musician Misha Byrne. For all three examples, we’ll play the unmixed version before the mixed version, so you can compare them.
In the first clip, listen to the volume levels. The vocals get a bit quiet on “Maybe I’ll never see…” Then in the second clip, you may notice a high-pitched noise in the background. Also, the “t” in the word “heart” gets lost in the unmixed clip. In the third clip, notice the error in the guitar playing on the last chord. In the mixed version, I spliced in another recording of Misha playing that chord correctly to make it sound better.
Where Music and Video Come Together
I’ve only mentioned a few of the tools recording engineers and mixers use to arrange and mix songs. They are all covered in DMA’s Academy for Music & Video Production: Come Together, which is co-sponsored by the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. There is so much to learn, and this class gives every student the knowledge they need to get started in both audio and video production.
Misha Byrne is a singer, guitarist and songwriter in Queensland, Australia.