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I’m going to be showing you how to mix and master music in TWO HOURS OR LESS!!
If you don’t think that’s possible, then you most likely haven’t checked out my online mixing and mastering course called “MIX and MASTER IT Yourself!”.
In today’s article, I’ll essentially be summarizing the contents of the course.
I’ll also be including some of my personal Logic Pro X presets to get you started.
Whether you’re just making music for fun or starting your career, learning how to mix and master your own music will save you TIME, MONEY and ENERGY.
That’s why I’m making it my priority to deliver this knowledge to you RIGHT NOW!!
- What Equipment Do You Need To Start Mixing Music?
- What Plugins Do You Need To Start Mixing Music?
- How To Mix Music: Step-by-Step
- How To Master Music: Step-by-Step
- Mixing and Mastering: BEFORE AND AFTER
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Mixing and Mastering
- Summary: How To Mix and Master Music in Logic Pro X
What Equipment Do You Need To Start Mixing Music?
When it comes to mixing and mastering, you actually don’t need as much equipment as you think.
I’ll start by listing the essentials…
- Speaker Monitors
Headphones are the most important piece of equipment (if you ask me).
Speaker monitors are essential because headphones can only go so far in regards to recreating the sound of a room (referred to as “soundstage”).
Of course, that’s when the acoustics of your room/studio come into play…
Can you work without speaker monitors (if you really don’t have a choice)? Absolutely, that’s why I’d personally prioritize headphones.
Now, the sky’s the limit when it comes to equipment you COULD use for mixing and mastering.
With the recent popularization of spatial audio (which you can read about HERE), a special type of speaker referred to as a “soundbar” could also be a good investment.
Some of the old-school mixing and mastering engineers still swear by rack mount effects processors (instead of using plugins).
That being said, it really depends on how much money you want to put down (and how much space you have).
Personally, I just work with 2 pairs of headphones and one pair of speaker monitors. I also use MANY different devices to test my mixes on.
- Car speakers
- Television speakers
- Ear phones
If you’ve got a solid pair of headphones and some of these devices, I think you’ll have more than enough to accurately sculpt your mixes and masters.
What Plugins Do You Need To Start Mixing Music?
We’re going to be learning how to mix and master music in Logic Pro X today, but the truth is that most DAWs include all the plugins you need to start mixing (and mastering).
However, I have to say that Logic Pro X is exceptionally well-equipped.
I’m only going to be recommending ONE plugin that isn’t included, but let’s start by understanding what TYPES of plugins you’ll be needing.
I like to separate them by “essential” and “non-essential” plugins.
Let’s start with the essentials…
It’s not much, right? Well, it’s actually that simple (believe it or not).
I’ll be showing you HOW to use these plugins in the next section. For now, let’s also talk about some of the non-essential plugins…
- Saturation (distortion)
- Noise Gate/Suppressor
Depending on the quality of the track(s) you’re working with, you may need to use one of these non-essential plugins.
For example, you might have an excessively noisy guitar track.
That’s when you’ll need to use a combination of noise gating/suppression and automation.
However, we won’t be talking too much about these non-essential plugins today so feel free to ask me any questions you might have about them in the comments.
Now, we’re ready to start mixing!
How To Mix Music: Step-by-Step
Of course, it’s much more difficult to learn how to mix and master music by simply reading about it. I still recommend checking out my course “MIX and MASTER IT Yourself!” if you really need additional support.
If you’re willing to figure some stuff out on your own though, then I know these steps will help!
Step 1 – EQ
I personally start with EQ (I’m aware that some producers start with compression though).
The first thing you want to do is use a high-pass filter to “clean up” the bottom-end. Secondly, you’ll use a low-pass filter to “clean up” the top-end.
Of course, the actual frequencies you’ll be cutting will vary from instrument to instrument.
- Electric Guitar (cut at 80-100 Hz and at 10,000 Hz)
- Bass Guitar (cut at 30-60 Hz and at 10,000 Hz)
Make sure to DOWNLOAD MY PRESETS to get an idea for each instrument.
I won’t be showing you how to “tweak” each EQ further because it would be very complicated to do in writing and it varies not just by instrument, but by performance.
That being said, you’ll get a much better idea by checking out MY COURSE.
For now, these EQ presets will give you the framework you need.
Every track needs an EQ, so make sure to take care of all of them.
Step 2 – Compression
Next up, I insert a compressor on EACH track after the EQ.
Technically, a compressor could actually remove some high-end so you may want to add another EQ after the compressor with a top-shelf boost (I rarely do).
Either way, here are the basic compression settings I use…
- Threshold: -18 dB
- Ratio: 4:1 (for now)
- Make-Up: 0 dB
- Knee: 1 (it’s softer)
- Release: Auto
You’ll notice that I didn’t talk about the “attack” yet. That’s because it’s one of the only parameters we’ll need to adjust on a track-by-track basis.
The other one is the “input gain”.
Essentially, by setting your threshold to -18 dB for each track and adjusting your input gain to get approximately 5 dB of compression… You’re leveling everything out.
In other words, even tracks that were recorded too quiet or too loud will become centered at -18 dB which is a pretty important level to set (read more about it HERE).
However, you need to set your attack before doing that.
In short, if you want less transient (and more sustain) you’ll set the attack time FASTER (0-20ms). More transient and less sustain? Set it SLOWER (20-200ms).
Step 3 – Sub-Mixing
Once you’ve taken care of EQ and compression on ALL YOUR TRACKS, you’re ready to move on to sub-mixing.
That’s essentially when we group our tracks into “sections” by using auxiliary buses.
It’ll make the mixing process much more simple and organized!
How should you group the different tracks? It depends, but I personally group all the drums into one sub-mix, all the guitars into another, etc…
Just use common sense and you’ll be on the right track.
Once you’ve routed all of your tracks to a sub-mix, we’re ready to start mixing the sub-mixes.
Step 4 – EQ (submix)
Just like the previous EQ phase, we’re going to simply “clean up” the frequency spectrum.
The actual values of your high-pass and your low-pass filters will depend on the lowest/highest frequencies you cut out of those tracks.
For example, a sub-mix for bass guitars would most likely be…
- High-Pass Filter: 30 Hz
- Low-Pass Filter: 10,000 Hz
You can make tweaks with notches using your musical ear once you’ve completed the “essentials cuts” for each sub-mix.
You’ll want to hear everything in context to make proper EQ manoeuvres though.
Step 5 – Compression (submix)
This is the ONLY plugin that I recommend outside of Logic Pro X.
It’s called Vulf Compressor (by Goodhertz). However, you can use ANY compressor that you like that adds colour. For example, an analog modelled Teletronix LA-2A plugin.
The objective here is to reduce our dynamic range once more.
Also, the way these different compressors saturate your signal provide a WIDE variety of sounds. The standard Logic Pro X Compressor is relatively transparent.
It’ll really make a difference in the end, you’ll see!
Step 6 – Reverb
You might be wondering why I didn’t add a reverb on the actual buses of the individual tracks.
That’s because I don’t always need it.
For instance, some guitar amplifiers provide their own reverb. I only add one on each sub-mix because it just makes things sound like they were recorded in the same room.
How To Master Music: Step-by-Step
Alright, so we’re now moving onto the final phase… MASTERING.
Basically, mastering is the equivalent of packaging a product but in this case, it’s also important to get our music to meet certain industry standards.
LOUDNESS is definitely the most important.
However, you shouldn’t need to do nearly as much in the mastering phase. SUBTLETY is key here and if you made mistakes in the mixing phase, this is where they’ll become apparent.
So, let’s see if we need to go back and review or if we’re ready to FINISH THIS!!
Step 1 – Linear EQ
Linear EQ is different from the standard Logic Pro X EQ.
When it comes to EQ plugins, it’s always better to go with linear phase EQs because they’re more transparent. If you want colour, analog modelled EQ plugins are much better.
That being said, the reason I didn’t use Linear EQ on the individual tracks is because it takes up more CPU resources. So, I’ll let you decide which one is best for you.
The idea is to make SUBTLE changes. For example, you might want to give the high frequencies a top-shelf boost to brighten up the mix.
Remember though, this EQ affects the entire mix.
Step 2 – Multi-Band Compression
I have to say, the Multipressor is one of my favourite plugins.
It’s essentially a hybrid of a compressor and an EQ. In other words, you can control how each region of the frequency spectrum is compressed.
Feel free to use them on your individual tracks as well, but only if you need more control.
Multi-Band compression is great for mastering because it really shapes the entire mix. It gives it a distinct feel depending on the genre you’d like to imitate.
Step 3 – Compression
I also add an instance of Vulf Compressor on the master bus.
However, I usually set it to 20% and simply pick one of the two mastering presets (master bump/master hump).
Once again, this just adds a bit more colour and texture to the mix.
Step 4 – Reverb
The reverb in mastering is used for the same reason as the reverb in the sub-mix phase.
We’re just trying to “glue” everything together.
I don’t usually set the reverb higher than 10% here, it’s SUPER subtle.
Step 5 – Limiting
One of the most important plugins for mastering is the LIMITER.
This essentially acts like the “final compressor” and takes off one last -5 dB of gain. It also helps you boost the perceived loudness of your track to bring it up to industry standard.
You should push your track as loud as it goes, but back it off once your track starts sounding broken/distorted. How loud you’ll be able to get it depends on how well you MIXED IT!!
Step 6 – Metering
To measure the overall loudness of your master, we currently use Loudness Units (LUFS).
If you want to learn more about LUs, check out THIS ARTICLE.
I personally aim to get the LOUDEST part of my master to about -10 LUFS. Of course, this depends on the genre (i.e. Classical vs Metal) and on the sound you want.
The loudness meter that comes with Logic Pro X is fine, but I personally recommend the Loudness Meter from YouLean.
It has a FREE version that’s already much better than the stock loudness meter.
Mixing and Mastering: BEFORE AND AFTER
Is mixing and mastering necessary?
If you’re still doubting the importance of mixing and mastering, then maybe these before/after examples will convince you…
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Mixing and Mastering
How is mastering different from mixing?
Although almost all of the same plugins are used for both, mixing and mastering are quite different.
It’s all about the INTENTION.
Mixing involves lots of “cleaning up” and techniques that assist the individual tracks in sounding like they belong together. That comes by accentuating certain characteristics and obscuring others.
Mastering, on the other hand, is much more focused on loudness.
Of course, some colouration can still be done in the mastering phase but it’s much more subtle and aimed at the final product.
Technically speaking, you could get your track to sound EXACTLY the way you want it in the mixing phase and simply use a limiter and loudness meter to get your track up to industry standard.
That being said, mastering is just as subjective as mixing.
Personally, my tracks just wouldn’t sound the same without my mastering chain. It’s like a signature sound that you can apply to anyone’s music.
How loud should a master be?
Nowadays, we measure loudness in Loudness Units (LUFS).
That being said, you’ll find that most tracks (we’re talking about popular music here) average -10 LUFS.
Does that mean that your track needs to be as loud?
It really depends on the genre and how much dynamic range you want to preserve. Part of what makes your track “louder” is the level of compression.
If you go too far, you’ll also end up with an unpleasantly distorted master.
I personally aim for -10 LUFS and it usually gets me the results I’m looking for. However, I always tell myself “as loud as possible without compromising tonal quality”.
In other words, prioritize the SOUND over the actual loudness.
How loud should a mix be before mastering?
If you ask me, you should aim to get your mix to average -18 dB.
You can read more about that HERE, but let’s just say it’ll come in handy if you’re using any analog modelled plugins on your master bus.
Either way, the truth is it doesn’t really matter BECAUSE…
You can just as easily reduce the level before any particular plugins by using a trim/output gain knob (which is present in the EQ and Compressor in Logic Pro X).
How can you make a mix sound good on all devices?
It may not be the answer you’re looking for, but…
You’ll simply need to go through LOTS of trial and error before getting your mix to sound good on all devices. That’s why I prefer to mix and master a track in TWO HOURS OR LESS.
I never said that I don’t eventually go back to tweak things!
The reality is that you could spend DAYS refining your mix with your setup, but you have no idea what it’ll sound like on someone’s earbuds.
So, the sooner you bounce your track, the sooner you can start taking notes.
That being said, the process of refining your mix to sound good on all devices can take WEEKS. Everytime you hear something’s off, take notes and make the edit when you get home!
Summary: How To Mix and Master Music in Logic Pro X
Did that simplify your life or what?!
Maybe the whole mixing and mastering process still seems overwhelming to you, but the best way to get over it is to dive right in.
Like I said, you can still check out my online course if you want EVEN MORE guidance.
Alternatively, you can also schedule a 1-on-1 lesson with me over Zoom.
For everyone else though, I really hope that the starter presets I’m providing will assist you in getting started as soon as possible.
Remember, you can do all of this using only the STOCK plugins in Logic Pro X…
Everything else is subjective, but those are the essential plugins you’ll be needing for both mixing and mastering.
Other than that, you’ll just need an excellent pair of headphones (or two).
The speaker monitors are STRONGLY recommended, but I lived without them for many years.
Do you have any specific questions about mixing and mastering? Let us know in the comments and feel free to share your experience with us!
What’s your biggest difficulty when it comes to mixing and mastering?