Saturday, August 26, 2017

How I Write and Produce Songs with BAND-IN-A-BOX (PART 2)

How I Write and Produce Songs with BAND-IN-A-BOX


If you’re new to Band in a Box or have been using it for a while but are unsure of where to go after you’ve created your song, this is a great place to start. A nice basic mix of your tracks will improve your project almost beyond belief and will encourage to you continue creating more great music.

This series assumes you have already created a song with or without vocals and are ready to create a basic mix. Initially, there are some general steps to follow when mixing your project which are more science than art. The art comes later, and is much more subjective.

If you don’t have your own song yet you can load one of the sample songs from your favorite STYLE in Band in a Box and work with that. Ideally you would have already exported your tracks to a DAW like Real Band or your own favorite. You can also simply utilize the MIXER in Band in a Box to explore the possibilities.

For the purpose of this instruction I suggest you use a good set of studio style headphones. You’ll want something with a flat frequency response that does not color the audio by boosting frequencies anywhere in the range. You can listen later with your studio monitors to compare what you’ve created. Using headphones initially will help you hear the effect of panning, which means where a track sits in the panorama (pan) or stereo spectrum of the mix; for example, is your guitar track left or right of center, or right in the middle? You get the idea.


- If you have a vocal (a temp or “scratch vocal” will do) set the volume to zero DB.
- Set the PAN of your vocal to exact CENTER or ZERO..
- Pull the volumes of all your other tracks all the way down so they are inaudible.
- Make sure you have no effects like reverb or delay on any track for now.
- Set your master volume to a comfortable level in your headphones.

Remember: “Engineers who fry their ears, find themselves with short careers.” Live by it.


For now, set the PAN of each track according to the following list:

Vocal - CENTER Nothing else ever gets set to CENTER unless it’s a lead instrument solo. “Walking” on the vocal is bad form and no singer will like it if you do that.

Bass - 5% - 10% left OR right of center, but opposite of the drums

Drums - 5% - 10% left OR right of center, but opposite of the bass.

Guitar or Piano - Set your basic accompaniment instrument about 25%-35% left or right of CENTER. If you have more than one accompaniment instrument, like a strummed guitar AND a fingerpicked guitar, set them opposite of each other.

Other instruments - Set any other instruments further out from CENTER in the mix for now. 50% -70% is a good range. These would include instruments like electric guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, etc that are “sweetening” instruments or ones that might be used for solos later in the song. Try to place instruments that have a similar frequency range like fiddle and steel OPPOSITE of each other. Don’t overload one side of the stereo spectrum with instruments in the same frequency range.

Backup vocals - This will be discussed at a later point. For now, if you have backup vocals, push them to the outside of the mix. 100% either left or right of CENTER and opposite each other if you have multiple vocals.

NOTE: The goal here is BALANCE in the mix. You should visualize your mix as you would a band onstage and attempt to give each instrument it’s own sonic space. No crowding.


Choose your main accompaniment, guitar, piano, etc and gradually bring up the volume while listening to your vocal. Watch your VU meters and make sure the vocal stays out front in the mix.

Next bring in the bass, and drums, and listen to the mix as you bring them in to be sure the vocal is still out front of the mix.

Do the same thing with the rest of your instrument tracks while listening. Generally, other instruments will be softer in the mix than your vocal, main accompaniment, bass, and drums. We’ll get into fine tuning the mix later.


If you’ve followed the steps above you now have a basic mix that should be satisfactory for now. You can use this mix while replacing your scratch vocal with a better take, or add intros and outros, or instrumental breaks, depending on what you want to hear in your song. Keep any additional tracks away from the vocal, giving them their own sonic space in the mix.

Learn to “hear” the different instruments in the mix. Good listening is an invaluable skill that takes time to develop. Once you have it, you can put a mix together in minutes. Unfortunately, you’ll also be able to hear bad mixes in others’ productions. Once you get good at it, you’ll find yourself becoming a critical listener. You may find this ruins your listening experience of other people’s music. Sorry. You now have “producer’s ears.” It goes with the territory.

There’s much more to come in this little series including using EFFECTS like reverb and delay, and using BUSSES to group your tracks for fast mixing.

Have fun!

Bob Buford, Producer


  1. Great article, Bob. Thanks for the clear explanation of how to do a headphone mix. I work pretty much that way. It's nice to hear it back from someone else, especially as your product sounds so good! I begin a mix by loading BIAB audio/midi and Sibelius midi into Logic Pro. BIAB 2017 is an amazing tool.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Everyone seems to have their own way of accomplishing the mixing chores. I wanted this article to be as generic as possible to get folks to a good mix without a lot of pain. From there, who knows where it goes. ~B

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