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Mixing Master Class

Lesson 5 of 27


Joey Sturgis

Mixing Master Class

Joey Sturgis

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Lesson Info

5. Saturation

Lesson Info


The next thing we're talking about is saturation. So this is, saturation is distortion, harmonic excitement. And you can use saturation to make things sound more exciting. You can use saturation to make things have more density. When I say density, I mean you can create more weight in that instrument's weight class. I'm not talking about trying to make a guitar sound like a bass. I'm talking about trying to make a guitar sound like it has more low end or to make it bigger in the low end area for example. Or with vocals even. You can put distortion on vocals to create more weight, more density, and just have the vocals have like basically more power behind them. I'm gonna open a session here. It's gonna take a minute. So while I'm doing that, I'm curious, do you guys use distortion a lot when you're mixing? I mean not as an effect but as a tool to make stuff sound cool. And if you do, what kind of plugins are you using when you do it? I use the sansamp plugin from the bass. Add a litt...

le gain the bass sounds, like give it more weight as you were saying. That's pretty much where I mostly use gain. Everything else is from the instruments itself. So that's pretty much the extent for me. Uh yeah, I've done a fair share of putting distortion on vocals, or even running it through a parallel. Have like a distortion channel, and just kind of adding stuff to it as needed. Or piano, to have it cut through a little bit more. Or, just anything that might need a little cut, and just kind of hide it in there to. You still want it to kind of stick out. Some of the stuff that I've done. That's exactly what I'm talking about. How about you? Besides sansamp, some use a plugin called saturn. Saturn? Yeah. Okay. And. And various other plugins, but then. Sometimes you use it in the extreme. And then sometimes use it just as something to either, instead of using EQ, to replace some frequencies that might have had to have been taken out. Like, sometimes you have to carve something out of a vocal, because it's stepping on something, the guitarist, but then you want it to have its identity and speak in the mix. So by adding a little saturation, it's kind of brings it out forward. Absolutely, so yeah. That's the kind of technique that I'm talking about when I talk about creating density and harmonic excitement. Now, here, I have a song open here. And, everything's been kind of mixed down into different tracks and stuff. But what I'm going to show you is by adding a little bit of saturation into the drums, I can actually make them stick out a little bit more. So I'm going to, here's what it. I'm going to play a section. To show you what it sounds like right now. (demo track playing) Okay cool, so like, that section right there. The drums, honestly, I mean, everything sounds really cool. And this is a final mix, which is awesome. But you could make those drums sound more exciting in that section by adding some saturation. I'm actually gonna use this. This new plugin that I have. It's called DF XCITE. This is from Drum Forge. What's really close is this plugin has a different modes for what you're working on. So if you're working on like a drum bust for example. You can put it in that mode, and what it does is it sets all the bands up to be, to utilize, to be utilized for that purpose. So if you're working with a snare, obviously you're working with a different set of frequencies. So, it moves all of the crossover points, so that the bands make more sense for a snare. Now, in this case, we're using a whole drum mix. So I'm putting it on the drum group mode. And then, then you just basically start to add saturation. So I'll show you that this actually is basically distortion. You know, so if I take like this band here, (demo track playing) So that's three different modes of distortion down here. Then you also have mix knobs. So, you kind of find the mode of distortion that you like. (demo track playing) So I like the vintage. It's got a little more, it's smoother. (demo track playing) And then you can just use the mix knob to kind of turn, tune it in. So, I'm going to turn it all the way off first. And then, as I'm playing the sound, I'm going to just gradually nudge it in there. (demo track playing) So, with it off, it's like sounds like it's all dull again. (demo track playing) Just like something happens when you turn it on, you know. So in the mix, that's going to be really apparent. I'll show you. I'll start with it off, and then I'll play it through. And as it goes, I'll turn it back on. (demo track playing) So, immediately the drums just came alive. And you know, I wish this plugin had existed when I mixed this song, so I could do that. Because I think that sounds awesome. But this song is already done. But that's just one method of doing it. You could, let's go to. Actually, there's a synth part right here. (demo track playing) Okay, here's what's cool. When I play this, you might not even know that that was there. I mean, it's pretty tucked in there. (demo track playing) There's a lot of stuff going on, but it's in there just enough to give it a little cool energy. Now you could make that stand out more by using distortion. So let's, I'm just going to load a stock. Like the built in distortion to key bass. (demo track playing) So just a tiny little bit. Like zero point six. (demo track playing) So what that does is it adds, it takes all of those kind of mid range frequencies, and really saturates them so much that they start to. It's almost like an EQ adjustment, but it's not quite. And then, of course, you've got your tone knob, where you can change how much high end is left in the signal. (demo track playing) That's a really useful tool as well for synths specifically, because you can remove all the overtones that are in that upper range, that create that high end sizzle and that hiss by taking that tone knob down. Sometimes, I'll literally open this distortion plugin. Like this exact one. And use it simply as a low pass. Because it has a cool effect to where it takes some of the hissy frequencies out. (demo track playing) Okay so, now, I'm going to play this in the mix. I'm going to take the distortion off first. And I'll turn it on during the part, and you'll hear it instantly come to life. (demo track playing) So you can see how it kinda just jumped into the mix. That's a perfect example of how you can use this saturation to create density. So what we did is we made that sound. The result of that sound is more dense now. It's taking up more space, so you can hear it more in the mix. It's not getting louder necessarily. It's not being EQ'd a different way. We're just adding more overtones and more harmonic excitement to the sound, and that allows it to be more audible in the mix. Great. Cool. Do you want to take a couple questions about saturation before we go to break? Absolutely. Alright, first question here. Here is Joey. I find that drive on most overdrive pedals tend to create a nasty clarity issue when I utilize it at all. With the variable of taste aside, how do you utilize drive on high gain electric guitar, and how much do you think it contributes to the overall sound? So, I think, a good. If you are using something that's designed to create saturation, and you're finding that it's destroying some of the definition in the performance, I think the best method of using that is to do it in parallel. So you can do it by duplicating the track. You have your original that's untouched, and your second one that has the saturator on it. And then you can just bounce the volume between those. You will have some phase issues, but you can, if you know what you're doing, you can go in and start to, you can move the tracks like this. Left and right, and get that phase to lock in. It just depends on what plugins and processors you're using, because each processor's different. You know, you can never. There's never a fixed number. And some processor's even, that latency will change based on how much processing you're doing, so you might have to actually shift things dynamically. With guitars, you know, there's technique to where you can even use the. Most guitar tones are saturated in the first place. That's how you create a distorted guitar. It's, it takes it, and clips it. And it's several. Several different clipping, filtering, clipping, filtering. Over and over and over again, hundreds of times to create a guitar tone. It's kind of like what a salt state guitar tone is. You can take that signal that's already been saturated, and saturate it again using different types of saturation to create a better balance, or create more weight. And, if I understand the question correctly, I think it would be utilized on something like let's say. Let me find. (demo track playing) Okay, so. I'm gonna hear that. Show it to you in the mix. (demo track playing) So the way that this tone was created was over drive into an amp. I don't. Well, actually I could show you. Let me unfreeze this. Yeah, so here we go, we have a tube screamer. Emulation, going into Criminal amp. And then, that's going into a pre-amp too is actually adding some saturation. If I turn the pre-am off, you'll hear it. (demo track playing) But, that's an example of having three stages of saturation. So you have your overdrive, which is creating this sound. (demo track playing) And then you bring in the distorted amp, which is saturating it a ton. (demo track playing) And then finally the pre-amp adds even more saturation in that. I'll increase the effect so you can hear it. (demo track playing) So, in order to get that to be, you know, a part of the mix, which is, is very dense. There's a lot of things happening. We're going to make that leave sort of stand out. It required, you know, all three stages of saturation. I could remove the tube screamer, for example. (demo track playing) But now some of the notes sound weak. Do you know what I mean? So, sometimes it does take a complex amount of layers of saturation to actually get to be in the right place. And you have to understand that like, each one has a different role. So, you know, your tube screamer pedal has the role of making the weak notes and the strong notes kind of balanced out. And then, your amp has the role of creating the overall distorted guitar tone with the right saturation. And then the pre-amp that I'm using here, where I could, I could have used a distortion plugin for example, is creating kind of more of a tasteful saturation to get that tone to have a different frequency of response in the mix. You know, it removes some of the nasty frequencies, and adds a little bit more low end. And I could even further that if effect with this knob here if I wanted to. (demo track playing) So I hope that answers the question, but the thing that's tricky with guitars is you have that sort of that, you know you have overdrive pedals, and then you've got also overdrive effects in the computer. Then you're kind of like, well I don't know which ones to use. And really, the ones that are intended to be used as guitar pedals are kind of built around the fact that a guitar is an instrument that falls within a certain frequency range. So it has been designed to sound good and tasteful within that range. And that's why it's important to use before the amp. Because it's been designed to be used before the amp. But, you know, all the time I use that tube screamer pedal, for example, I'll use that on vocals, just because it sounds cool. So there are no really no rules for it. Cool. I have kind of a combination question here. Because they both go so well together. Would you have a plan of where you want instrumentation to sit before you add distortion? Or do you use it to move things back in the mix? And with that, do you typically make saturation choices with the instruments solo'd or within the context of the mix? I think for me, I tend to use saturation as a way of keeping intact my original tone adjustments. So, once I get some things adjusted into the tone, you know, I've got all of the EQ settings that I want. And this thing sounds great. I've got this guitar sounding exactly how I want, so the frequency range I want. But that, what I want, is hard to hear. You know, it's hard. It doesn't stick out in the mix, and I have to push it too loud, and then when I have it. When I have it too loud, it covers something else, and blah blah blah. So, for me saturation is a tool that allows me to take something that I want to sound a certain way, and make it more audible by creating weight. But what I'm trying to say is you can use it for other reasons, you know. You can create character, so. You might hear a song on the radio where the vocals sound like they're going through a megaphone for the whole song. Like that's where they've taken saturation. They've said, let's make these vocals sound like overdriven or something. Like they've been put through a guitar pedal. That's a really cool way to create a certain type of vocal character. And I'm talking about mainly, and what I've demonstrated is that saturation can be used as a tool to take your tone vision and make it actually work for you in your mix. You might have this idea that, oh okay. I want this lead to sound a little scooped. But when you do that, you can't hear it anymore, because it's stacked up against all the stuff. But with saturation or distortion, you could still have it be scooped, and still also have it be audible. Like, it's easier to hear in the mix. So, it's a tool for different reasons. And when I approach a song, I do kind of have in mind the frequency space of all the instruments, but saturation is not used in the deciding process of that. I use it as post solution. So, once I've gotten everything in the frequency spaces and where I want them to be, then I'll start to listen really carefully. Like for this section, for example, I would be listening really carefully, like can I hear that guitar even though that there's a keyboard part happening and a harmony and a vocal and. And if not, maybe saturation is the answer to make it happen. To make it more audible. So, it's not. It's not a tool that's utilized in the decision factor. But it's used to make those decisions actually work. So, hopefully that makes sense. Great, I think we have time for one more before we go to break. This is from Roger Mendez. And he's asking when working with incredibly heavy bands, how do you build ambience behind break down sections? I tend to use texture type sounds and noises to build up more a feel into certain sections. But I find that the heavier the band is, the less this method works, which leaves the mixes sounding kind of dry due to the redundancy of musical content. Any ideas, like possibly using saturation to help bring those textures to life? Well the thing that's interesting about that problem is that the problem of that is the actual material. What's been written. However, there is the idea of taking that, and making it interesting via the mix or the production. So, the way that the guitars are recorded, the way that that dynamic response interacts in the mix, can be the interesting part of the music. So maybe the music itself is not interesting. You know, maybe it's just very simple open notes in a certain pattern. Okay, that's not very interesting, but if you were to record it with some kind of really unique guitar tone that you've never really heard before, that might be the one thing that makes the whole mix make sense. And, I don't think it's not all. It's not always a issue of space or ambience. It could just be an issue of creativity. You know, I think the more you're willing to experiment and try new things you've never heard ever. You know, or never even thought of, the better you will get at doing these kinds of things, because really the the sound that we've come to expect from modern music production is the result of tons and tons of experimentation. I would say the best way to combat that problem is to literally try 200 guitar tones until you find something that sounds very fresh and unique. So maybe it is the production that needs to make that song sound interesting. And, as far as adding pads or textures in the ambience, that's all been done, so. It's kind of up to you to figure out how can you add elements like that to a mix to make it interesting but not have it be the same format of what everyone else is doing. I think, you know. For example, this one part that we were listening to a second ago. (demo track playing) I'm going to mute all of the effects, and this part's going to sound crazily different now. (demo track playing) So, just by having like two elements, I have a synth and a piano. It completely changes the vibe of that part. (demo track playing) So yeah, you can kind of cheat and like add stuff to the song, and make it parts like that sound more interesting, but. I think that there's also a certain degree of of artists that maybe they don't want that in their music, so how do you make something like this. (demo track playing) How do you make that interesting? And I think the answer is just experimentation with tone. And not using the standard guitar tone. You know, maybe use something kind of really off the wall, and sometimes when you have a really unique song or maybe even a simple song combined with a really unique mixing method, that is what creates kind of like interesting bands. Like, I think. I'm trying to think of a good example, that maybe something like Jet or something. When they first came out, it was like, okay, let's take. Let's take an old vintage recording format and but, put new song structure into it, or something like that. So it's just like, mixing different elements and coming up with interesting results, and being willing to experiment.

Class Description

Joey Sturgis is the producer behind some of the biggest names in metalcore, including Asking Alexandria, Of Mice & Men, and I See Stars. His sound is one of the most sought after sounds of the last decade and in this class, he’ll show you the unique mixing techniques that are key to getting it.

This class picks up where Joey’s Studio Pass class left off: you’ve got your session tracked and edited, now how do you turn it into a polished, world-class mix? 

He’ll show you how to get his signature sound, including: 

  • EQ and compression strategies for drums, guitar, bass, vocals, and synths/effects 
  • How to use automation to fix problem areas and bring out the song’s dynamics 
  • Tons of little tips and tricks to take your mix from good to great 

If you want to elevate the quality of your mix, don’t miss Mixing Master Class with Joey Sturgis.

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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I don't work exclusively in the same genre as Joey but I always make sure to clear my schedule when he's on CreativeLive. This class definitely didn't disappoint and it was awesome getting to see Joey work on a track from start to finish and what his approaches and thought processes are. And not only that, but I appreciate that he briefly touches on client communication in regards to production, mixing, etc, and the business side to the mixing process as this is an area I'm just now dipping my toes in. Even though I often find myself on the rock, indie or post-rock side of things, a lot of these ideas can apply to anything you're working on and I definitely picked up some ideas to try and work on myself. Joey gives you enough to inspire you and make that light bulb click and does it with an admirable humility that I respect. He gives you more than enough on how and why he does what he does, but I never feel like he reveals all his secrets or magic; I honestly prefer it that way as it leaves a fun challenge of taking the ideas you've learned and figuring out how, when and where you're going to use them in your own mixes. Especially if you're not doing predominantly metal, like I am. The ideas are inspiring. This class isn't about those perfect settings to that phenomenal mix or tone; it's about why you do this and how you do that. It's cool to be able to watch his process and pick his brain, start to finish and all in the box. Joey definitely doesn't need to do these classes for us, but the more I see him getting active on social media the more I get this vibe that he genuinely wants to help make the creative and mixing processes easier and help us expand our knowledge and skills. I get that it's smart business, but I respect and appreciate the hell out of him for taking time to do these classes and answer our questions... Even if there are shameless plugs here and there. I love when these great engineers take time to show us you don't need school, you don't need thousands of dollars of outboard gear, etc. It's your ear, not your gear. We live in an amazing day and age with the Internet and awesome resources like CreativeLive. I love it and these are great classes to watch and get in their heads. It set gets the hamster wheel in my head spinning and I always keep CreativeLive classes on my calendar. They're motivating and inspiring. Looking forward to the next one!


I’ll start off by saying this a amazing class not just for those looking for or interested in “The Sturg” production, but for anyone interested in mixing or mastering. You get everything from the must have fundamentals and basics of mixing and production, to the more advance technical aspects, and of course Joey’s personal approach and method to mixing. Everything from EQ, to compressors, multiband compressors, automation and chain signals. If you ever wondered whether you should place delay in front of your reverb, or reverb in front of delay, or other common chain effects, chances are they get answered in this class. The class is organized in several lessons following a logical order, each covering different topics. All the techniques are shown with examples and Joey does a great job of making it easy to understand and follow as well as explain the reasoning behind the techniques. And it’s not just mixing or production that is covered, but the importance of good songwriting, good communication with artists and good workflow. I highly recommend this for anyone looking to take their mixing or production to the next level. Regardless of skillset, if you’re a noob, intermediate or advanced mixer or producer, you’ll find very helpful and informative lessons, regardless of what style or genre you do.

a Creativelive Student

I own both of Joey`s courses. While both are full of useful information to get you started in the audio production world with lots of good technical explanation and awesome concepts for a fast and individual workflow, Joey actually comes up with average or "mediocre" mixes and tones. If you want some really detailed information about how Joey works, this class is for you. If you want to know what plugins Joey likes to use and wanna see him promote his own plugins, this class is for you! If you expect to learn how to create or come up with outstanding guitar and bass tones (which Joey is famous for) you won`t learn much and won`t hear anything in this particular regard, unfortunately. However, I`d still recomment them, especially the first course he did but again, if you expect to hear a typical Joey Sturgis mix quality, you won`t find what you`re looking for.