I have spent a long time focusing on the fundamentals of mixing. It is vital that the first thing you do is balance your mix properly so that every sound has its own place. It’s only at this point that you can start to think about advanced techniques to bring your mix to life – the creative application of audio plug-ins.
The two main ways that FX can be used creatively:
Spatial FX – change the perceived position of a sound, create an impression of movement, depth, width.
Timbral FX – alter the tone/texture of the sounds in your mix. This can include subtle shifts in timbre and pitch, warped moving textures, thick gritty distortion.
Application of FX
The way you apply FX will great change how they affect the sound – as will the order in which you insert the FX. Audio passes through plug-ins from the top down – this means that the effects happen one after the other, with the signal being changed before it reaches the next plug-in in the chain. If you place EQ in the signal path then the next plug-in only affects the signal that is left after the EQ has been applied. This means you can apply EQ before a reverb for example, and only the frequencies that you desire will be affected by reverberation. Experiment with changing the order of your processing chain, sometimes it can make a massive difference.
In-Line FX – this means the FX is placed directly on the channel/bus and will alter the sound totally before it leaves the channel. In-line processing fundamentally changes a sound.
Parallel Processing – the FX is placed on a bus and aux sends are used to decide how much of the original signal to send to the bus. This means that the original signal plays unimpeded, with the option to decide how much signal goes to your FX, and how loud the affected signal is in your mix. You can then also apply multiple plug-ins to your Aux track without affecting the original signal, and you can also choose to place it in a different place in the stereo field – for example, a delay that only plays on the left.
Automation – you can use track automation to choose when and where to apply your FX. This could by using Bypass or Wet/Dry controls to selectively switch on your FX; automating an Aux Send level; automating the behaviour of the aux track itself.
Reverb – use reverb to manipulate depth. Automate reverb to suddenly push a sound into a new space.
Delay – very short delays further manipulate the impression of depth.
Delay can be used to thicken a sound. And of course, create the repeating ‘echo’ effect.
Stereo Imaging – these plugins take advance of psychoacoustics to manipulate phase. By altering the phase relationship in a sound it tricks the brain into hearing a ‘wider’ sound – but also means you will have phase problems in mono, so be careful.
Panning automation – move sounds around the stereo field to emphasise changes in the song.
Chorus/Modulation – chorus creates a double of a signal then delay it by a very short amount to manipulates phase. Other modulation plug-ins such as phasers apply similar principles to create a sound that appears to be moving.
Modulation – modulation plug-ins (phaser, chorus, flanger, ringshifter etc) also alter the frequency balance of a sound. This can range from a subtle thickening effect, right through to whooshing and swirling textures. Don’t worry about how they work (I don’t!) just try them out and see what interesting things they do to your audio. For example I like to use Logic’s ringshifter on the top layer of reece basses, to give the tops some movement that feels alive due to the randomness caused by the ringshifter.
Distortion – gentle saturation (for example Overdrive, Tube Distortion) thickens a sound by emphasising its natural harmonics – this is known as harmonic distortion. The other end of the scale is the fizzing, gritty, buzzing, screaming sound of hard distortion.
Amp Simulation – model the behaviour of a guitar amplifier to create a range of tones. Again this can range from subtle thickness to painful screaming tones.
EQ/Filters – we have used EQ to balance our levels. Automating EQ or filters enables us to choose to highlight sounds at important moments in a song.
Pitch – layer vocals for thickness, warp the pitch for dramatic effect.
When using these types of FX start off with presets so you can get an idea of the possibilities available to you. Give yourself an idea of how you can manipulate audio creatively, and bring your mixes to life.