How I Write and Produce Songs with BAND-IN-A-BOX
PART 2: BASIC MIXING
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.
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.
BEGINNING PAN SETTINGS:
For now, set the PAN of each track according to the following list:
- 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.
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
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
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
BRING IN THE BAND:
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.
LISTENING IS KEY
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.
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.
Bob Buford, Producer