Audio: Mixing and Mastering Tips

I have a printed copy of some info attributed to a Ron (aka RF) from the Fantomized web site [around April 2004] but I can no longer find the information online. [UPDATE: the info appears to be located here: ] So I’m reproducing it here along with my visual representation of the grid he describes. I put my own interpretation of the frequency breakdown he describes based on a chart that I saw which had frequencies of instruments mapped to keys on a piano. Basically, it conveyed that most instruments are between 20hz and something like 5000hz.

Here are the tips that Ron provided (some paraphrased for brevity):

When mixing, keep real world instruments real. In other words, in real life a violin is a monophonic instrument, not a stereo “patch”. So don’t use a stereo patch to emulate it. Use monophonic panning and placement of mono instruments, and LATER ON apply ambient effects like reverb to the entire mix to give the violin some space. Use stereo presets on synth pads and effects but for guitar, drum, cello, etc…these are mono instruments in real life so keep it that way

Do NOT layer multiple stereo presets with various stereo effects in the same mix, especially not reverb and stereo delay effects. Doing so will create a muddy mix and loss of clarity

Look at your stereo space as a “canvas” which has both width and height. The width is controlled by panning. You can place instruments anywhere between the two speakers. Visualize height as frequency range at any point in the panorama, from very low to very high frequencies. You should divide this audio “canvas” as a grid with 5 sections across for the width: hard left, mid left, center, mid right, hard right. Then divide the height into 4 sections for frequency: low frequency, mid low, mid high, and high. Now the whole crux of the game is this: do not allow any instrument or sound to compete with any other instrument or sound within the same grid space. If you place a violin which has a frequency range that sits in the middle high range, and if you place that violin in the medium right panoramic position, then make sure that no other sound lands in that same position in that same frequency range. This is how you can achieve clarity and space. Apply EQ and compression to create sonic boundaries between these grid spaces. [Ron mentions the use of s spectrum analyzer to check each instrument in solo mode to know where to place it on the grid. He also mentions how it may sound like the dynamics are hindered for the solo instrument but the result is that it sounds good in the full mix because it will have its place.] Another example is EQ a border between the bass guitar and kick drum using hard limiting and steep eq curves to create a top to the kick and a bottom to the bass. It may make each instrument sound diminished when solo’d, but once you put them together in the mix you bass will sound big and tight. [Here is an updated visual of the grid with frequency info from ]


The same technique applies to effects. If you apply a stereo ping pong delay to a guitar lead then you need a grid space for the guitar lead but you will also need a grid space the delay taps. EQ the taps to have their own place on the grid AND NEVER LET ANY SOUND share a grid space. If you have more tracks or parts than this will allow for at any concurrent moment in the timeline of your music then frankly you have TOO MANY parts going on at that point and you need to cut back because MIX IS KING and more important than any individual part.

Making a record is not about layering presets. Presets sell keyboards all awash in effects because they sound good solo’d in the music store. You need to make your own song your own production. [ie. stay away from presets if possible and be creative and original].

Put your mix in one ambient space. Vary the level of reverb in that space on individual instruments to create dynamics and interest. But do it all in one ambient space. Often the best use of delay is in a mono configuration. Rarely will a ping pong delay work in a mix unless very carefully planned. Don’t be afraid to vary the reverb type, or depth, between sections of a single song. Use a short room verb during the verse, and a large hall during the chorus. But, use the same reverb sound during any section of a song, NO OVERLAYING, just different levels on different instruments.

Mix flat and unexciting so that every grid space sounds even in both volume and dynamics. Then, when mastering, use mastering tools such as multi-band leveling, harmonic excitement, stereo enhancement, etc. to give that “flat and even” mix the Smiley EQ curve that your stereo and senses crave. But if your mix is flat and even, then your mastering will be effective because your raw material is there to work with.

Other tips that I wrote down at some point but now I can’t find the source.

Panning gives you spatial orientation, frequency gives you altitude perception, and volume gives you distance perception. You want to work with the first two like the grid advise above for the most part. Stay away from volume until you absolutely need to because you are shooting for getting an even flat mix.

Recording Process: Put down drums, scratch bass, and rhythm guitar. Keep the bass part simple.
Then do the vocals the way you want them to sound.
Then redo the bass and guitar the way you want them to sound.
Then add melody guitars or other instruments.
This ensures the vocals are unobstructed.

Mixing Approach:
DON’T mix your rhythm section, then your leads, then finally your vocals. By the time you get to the vocals there is not much dynamic room to work with. DO mix your vocals first and go backwards from there. Vocals, lead, rhythm, drums. If anything takes away from the vocals then tweak it accordingly.

Vocal Effects: For vocals apply effects in this order Doubling, Compression, EQ, and Reverb. Keep the reverb amount around 3% to 4% wet. Not having any reverb on a vocal usually sounds wrong. Have a little bit, just keep it low. Also, try 800-900ms of reverb time instead of 1700-2000ms. The further in the background you want something to appear, the more reverb it should get…perhaps 7% maximum.

2 responses to “Audio: Mixing and Mastering Tips”

  1. Thank you! A great initial orientation to sound work. I’ve had it on my mental radar that this is an area that I need to dip into at some point — but have had no idea about where to begin. This post offers up a foundation metaphor which I can begin building up from. 🙂

  2. You’re welcome Sven. I found it to be a nice set of concepts to build on, especially the grid.