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Top Down Mixing and Mastering

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Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby kalmoa » Wed Jan 30, 2019 7:25 pm

This is probably a very basic/novice question for most people on this forum, but I couldn't find the specific answer I was looking for while I searched. I have a few questions/concerns about top down mixing/mastering.

- I found it to be much easier on the CPU, as well as achieving desired results faster

1. Is there some basic "rule" that one should apply to the master track, such as +2db [high shelf]? I know this is much easier than adding +2db [high shelf] on every track, but are there any downsides to doing this? And where is a good place to start the +2db? Specifically, I am referring to the hz. 5k, 10k, etc...

2. Is it better to initiate top down from the master track, or the bus tracks? Or both?

3. I've seen mixing/master plugin chains that are extremely complicated and in depth, but is it really necessarily to achieve fantastic results? Some master chains are 3-4 plugins long, while others I have seen at 10+ plugins.

Note: I primarily make hip/hop, pop, electronic music. Thanks for any help/suggestions.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby The Elf » Wed Jan 30, 2019 7:52 pm

Why add a shelf EQ to everything, when you could target the sources that need it and get the mix sounding better without an EQ on the master?

Some people like to mix into an EQ, or compressor and such. This isn't 'mastering', and I certainly wouldn't be aiming for final 'mastered' levels while mixing.

Ideally your mix will sound of it best before mastering and if all the mastering engineer needs to do is remove the last bit of headroom then you've done a great job.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Sam Inglis » Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:46 pm

The Elf wrote:Why add a shelf EQ to everything, when you could target the sources that need it and get the mix sounding better without an EQ on the master?

As a convert to master bus EQ, I think this is a false opposition.

The key point here is that you work with master EQ from early on in the process. Put the faders up, get a rough balance, then add whatever broad-strokes EQ you need to get the mix into the right tonal ballpark.

The great advantage is that from this point on, you are making other mix decisions within the context of a track that is already in that ballpark. If the overall tonality of the raw mix is skewed and you leave it that way, it becomes much harder to make those individual decisions about, say, how the guitars or the drums need to be equalised, because you're hearing them against the wrong background.

I'd also dispute the claim that having many EQs on individual tracks sounds better than having an EQ on the master bus and less processing on individual tracks. It just doesn't. And on the occasion that the master bus EQ which is right for the overall song compromises one or two individual sources, it's not hard to route those to a separate bus.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby blinddrew » Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:48 pm

I've wondered about this every time I've read about it. The only time I've sort of done this was on the EP I've just finished, where, at the mastering stage, I was looking to give the tracks a degree of consistency of sound - so in this case I sort-of-mixed into a tape saturation plug-in.
So if you're trying to get a bit of an audio signature, I can see its use as a creative effect.
I guess if you've got an amazing bit of outboard that you want to run everything through that could be a similar use case.
But otherwise it seems to be a bit back to front to me.
But as usual, I point you to the words in my signature... ;)
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Jan 30, 2019 9:16 pm

The Elf wrote:...if all the mastering engineer needs to do is remove the last bit of headroom then you've done a great job.

Although, of course, the mastering engineer is much less likely to want or need to do that in these days of universal loudness normalisation... :D 8-)
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Dave B » Wed Jan 30, 2019 9:42 pm

My take is that you are conflating two very different things :

1. Yes, one of the first things on the master bus should be a little hard filtering so that you aren't dealing with any unneeded frequencies when moving down your processing chain

2. Yes, you should also tame the mix channel. It's not going to hurt to have two lots of filtering - the first cleans up the individual channel and the master bus one means that any rogue summing it tamed.

TBH, I'd recommend spending a little of your cash on something like :

https://www.samplecraze.com/product/mixbus-strategies/

Which explains everything clearly and is an absurdly low price for the amount of knowledge it imparts..
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby The Elf » Wed Jan 30, 2019 10:03 pm

Sam Inglis wrote:As a convert to master bus EQ, I think this is a false opposition.
I think we'll have to agree to differ! :lol:

Sam Inglis wrote:The key point here is that you work with master EQ from early on in the process. Put the faders up, get a rough balance, then add whatever broad-strokes EQ you need to get the mix into the right tonal ballpark.
Which means that EVERY source signal is getting, for example, a 2dB of shelving boost at 12kHz - whether they need it or not. And all you will then do in response is not add that same shelf to the sources you might otherwise have done - hats and cymbals, maybe.

Sam Inglis wrote:I'd also dispute the claim that having many EQs on individual tracks sounds better than having an EQ on the master bus
Which you wouldn't do, because only one or two sources are likely to need that EQ. So no, it wouldn't sound better for all the sources to have EQ, in the same way that all sources don't need inappropriate EQ - which is what adding the EQ to the master is actually doing; 12kHz shelf boost on bass?

Don't get me wrong - if it works for you, then I'm all for it. Good luck to you. But it's not a universal 'always do it because it's great' answer, any more than my approach is. Both are equally valid and not 'false' in any way. My mixes will testify to that. :smirk:

That's the wonderful thing about this job - many ways to achieve the broadly same end result! :thumbup:
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby The Elf » Wed Jan 30, 2019 10:05 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
The Elf wrote:...if all the mastering engineer needs to do is remove the last bit of headroom then you've done a great job.

Although, of course, the mastering engineer is much less likely to want or need to do that in these days of universal loudness normalisation... :D 8-)
Yeeeeeeaaaahhhhh...

When you find one, please let me know! I'm kidding, I'm kidding! :mrgreen:
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Sam Inglis » Wed Jan 30, 2019 10:42 pm

The Elf wrote:
Sam Inglis wrote:The key point here is that you work with master EQ from early on in the process. Put the faders up, get a rough balance, then add whatever broad-strokes EQ you need to get the mix into the right tonal ballpark.
Which means that EVERY source signal is getting, for example, a 2dB of shelving boost at 12kHz - whether they need it or not. And all you will then do in response is not add that same shelf to the sources you might otherwise have done - hats and cymbals, maybe.

In my experience, that's largely a theoretical problem.

No, in most cases you wouldn't deliberately add a HF shelving boost to some sources in the mix. But in practice, adding a HF shelving boost to the mix as a whole rarely causes problems on those sources. And if it does, it's a simple matter to create a separate bus without master EQ and route any problem signals to it.

For me, the benefits of working with a mix that is tonally in the zone from the start easily outweigh issues like this, which often turn out not to be issues in the real world.

The Elf wrote:
Sam Inglis wrote:I'd also dispute the claim that having many EQs on individual tracks sounds better than having an EQ on the master bus
Which you wouldn't do, because only one or two sources are likely to need that EQ. So no, it wouldn't sound better for all the sources to have EQ, in the same way that all sources don't need inappropriate EQ - which is what adding the EQ to the master is actually doing; 12kHz shelf boost on bass?

I think it's important to point out that 12kHz is neither here nor there in this context. I'm talking about shelving boosts that extend right down into the mid-range. You might for instance be adding 2dB from 1.5kHz and another 2dB from 3 or 5 kHz. Or I might use a 'tilt EQ' to shift the frequency balance about a central point, say 1kHz or so. So the master bus EQ is doing something audible to every signal in the mix -- and it's amazing how, in practice, what's right for the mix as a whole almost never turns out to be 'inappropriate' for any individual source.

The Elf wrote:That's the wonderful thing about this job - many ways to achieve the broadly same end result! :thumbup:

The reason why I'm fairly evangelical about master bus EQ is that, for me at least, I don't achieve the same end results. I used to share your view, and I had the idea that using master bus EQ was a bit of a coarse and indiscriminate approach. But after a long conversation with Jack Ruston I decided to be much bolder with it. Straight away I found I was doing much better mixes and doing them a lot faster.

So, er, thanks Jack!
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby The Elf » Wed Jan 30, 2019 11:44 pm

As I said - if it works for you (and Jack)... :beamup:
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Eddy Deegan » Thu Jan 31, 2019 2:06 am

As a relatively uninformed bystander (being more of a performer than an engineer) this is an interesting discussion because I'm currently very engaged in working on improving the results of my mixing.

In some way, it's reassuring to know that people I hold in regard by reputation have disagreements on the best approach. In other ways, it's a bit of a 'oh' moment because that leaves me with extra testing, experimentation and homework to do :)

If nothing else, I think this thread clearly illustrates that mixing is as much of an art as a science. Nobody of sound mind argues with good results.

I'd be very interested in the conclusions of a session with Elf and Sam, Jack and any other experienced participants such as Eddie B. collaborating in a suitable environment trying out the two approaches on a couple of mixes. Not from a combative perspective but from all concerned trying both approaches and A/B comparing the results with good equipment, open minds, level heads and critical ears.

That may be a pipe dream, it may be non-practical for logistical/contractual/other professional reasons and it may still result in a qualified difference of opinion but regardless of any final conclusions it would make for an extremely interesting article in SOS and I'd love to read it!
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby blinddrew » Thu Jan 31, 2019 8:24 am

I'd pay to read that article! But only in SOS, I don't think I'd trust that one to 'the other place'... ;)
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby The Elf » Thu Jan 31, 2019 9:47 am

I'd be happy to participate. I'm always open to learning something!
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Sam Inglis » Thu Jan 31, 2019 9:49 am

Likewise! I wonder how we could make it work from a practical point of view?
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Wonks » Thu Jan 31, 2019 9:56 am

Well if you are going to do it with the top down, you'll need a warm, dry, sunny day. :D
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby blinddrew » Thu Jan 31, 2019 9:57 am

Make this happen! :)
I'm happy to come along to take notes, or something ;)
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Dave B » Thu Jan 31, 2019 9:58 am

How about doing it as a round table Mix Rescue article?
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Mike Stranks » Thu Jan 31, 2019 10:23 am

As has been said, we're in the territory of art not science, 'one man's meat...' and so on.

What would such an experiment prove? That people of experience have different ways of working and produce different mixes. That 'your' "Hmmm; I'm not too sure about that." is 'my' "What a superb sound..."

I've had some experience of being asked to provide raw live tracks for a subsequent album mix and being asked to provide a mix at the same time. Said mix receives eulogies and I'm told that "This is brilliant; we're going to use it and not change a thing!" Some months later I'm sent a complimentary copy of the album. "My" track is a different mix, which to my ears sounds appalling. Happened a few times... Who's 'right' and who's 'wrong'? (For the avoidance of doubt: on a few occasions I've sent 'raw' tracks to The Elf. I've never felt short-changed by his mixes. :D )

We all have our own ways of working, our own techniques and our own style. Take advice, ask questions of yourself about why something sounds good - or doesn't - to your ears and come to your own decisions.

I have probably 8-10 different versions of one of my favourite pieces of music. They're all different from both a musical and recording aspect. The differences are startling and extreme in some cases.

Forget metrics; use your ears.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Sam Spoons » Thu Jan 31, 2019 10:41 am

If it is possible to demonstrate the different effects of eq-ing the mix and eq-ing the channels separately that would be useful. Asking the question "does one approach suit a particular genre, instrument line up or WHY better than the other?" But, I suspect other factors will have more effect on the final mix.
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Re: Top Down Mixing and Mastering

Postby Martin Walker » Thu Jan 31, 2019 12:38 pm

What a fascinating discussion!

I can understand the claimed merits of both approaches (global EQ 'tailoring' vs individual EQ 'taming'), but do tend to agree with Sam that global EQ may give similar results much more quickly, and therefore be good from the artistic point of view in capturing the sound you want before getting bogged down in analytical decisions and switching brain lobes ;)

There are indeed so many different approaches to mixing. I recently read some user complaints about Waves' new CLA MixHub plug-in suite not having mute and solo buttons on each channel, which for some musicians made it almost impossible to work with.

However, this lack of Mute/Solo functions was quite deliberate, as Chris Lord-Alge (the CLA inspiration in the product title) refuses to use them, as he claims that concentrating on the sound of a single channel is detrimental to the mix in its entirety. Again, I can understand his reasoning (although personally I'd also be lost without Mute/Solo functions), but the CLA approach does once again suggest that concentrating on the top down overall sound can indeed be the most important aspect to many people when mixing.

It's a good job we're all different, but as always, it's the end result that counts!


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