Tonal Balance and Frequency Response


Mixing Master Class


Lesson Info

Tonal Balance and Frequency Response

We just wrapped up EQ and saturation, so now we're talking about balance. And what I mean by balance is you have different types of balance. You have tonal balance, you have volume balance, and then you also have the blend of how the different instruments and the sounds work together. Now with tonal balance, it's interesting because there's sort of a, there's sort of the element of tonal, you know, how much high-end and how much low-end is right for every sound, and how much high-end and how much low-end is right for the song, or the part, or the album, or whatever. So when you're mixing, you have to keep that in mind. You know, what are you shooting for, and what is right for the material that you're working with. Now, with tonal balance, you are achieving a certain frequency response by applying these different methods of of EQ and saturation and character and all those things that we talked about. So I'm gonna try and demonstrate an idea of tonal shifting. I have this vocal part her...

e, I just want to show it to you. ♪ You can't take away part of me ♪ ♪ My dreams, your voice, meaningless ♪ ♪ I'm what you'll never be ♪ ♪ But you're not what I made up ♪ ♪ A figment of a dream ♪ ♪ You said you'd bring me to my knees ♪ Okay, so it's really, really soft for like most of the part and it get pretty loud at the end. The thing that was really challenging with this signal is, I want to show you what it sounded like before. ♪ You can't take away part of me ♪ Super quiet. ♪ My dreams, your voice, meaningless ♪ Okay so, it's really quiet and so what do you do with that? We're gonna talk about this later when I talk about dynamics in a minute. But the next step of mixing this vocal was to add some compression. So I did that, then this is what it sounded like. ♪ You can't take away part of me ♪ ♪ My dreams, your ♪ Now, the problem I have with that is there's too much low-end in her voice. I feel like the overall tone to me sounds kind of like a diagonal line, like this, where this is the bass and this is the treble, and the bass is kind of, it's too loud, it's like tilted the wrong way for my ears. So what would you do to fix that? You could use EQ, right? Well, the problem with EQ is, as we learned earlier, it's linear. When you get to the end of this vocal part, she gets really loud. (loud female voice singing) Now, when we reach that point, the low-end sounds good to me, and I don't think that it needs to be removed. So, you could, what you could have done is automated a low shelf that in the beginning, is down like this and then when she gets louder, it goes up. But what I chose to do was linear multiband compression. I'll show you, when I play this back, you're gonna see how this thing reacts to her voice. ♪ You can't take away part of me ♪ ♪ My dreams ♪ So what you see is, you see areas of the frequency range going up and down more, based on how she's singing and what's coming out of her voice. So as the notes and the frequencies come out of her vocal cords, some of those notes and frequencies have more low-end than others. So this processor here, the multiband compressor, is when there's too much low-end, it's pushing it down, and when there's enough, it lets it come right through. So you can see that happen. ♪ Your voice, meaningless ♪ ♪ I'm what you'll never be ♪ Now without it. ♪ Your voice, meaningless ♪ ♪ I'm what you'll never be ♪ You see how it sounds kind of muddy and not very clear? So this is kind of a combination of all the things we've been talking about. It's like, it's EQ but it's not linear, because it's a multiband compressor, so it's kind of like a dynamic EQ that's happening in real time and reacting to her voice, but it's creating a tonal shift. We're creating a different frequency response, using a non-linear tool, so it's kind of a really advanced concept. And then we treat her voice with the de-esser, you know, to kind of remove the hissiness of the S-es. ♪ I'm what you'll never be ♪ ♪ Voice, meaningless ♪ So. ♪ Voice, meaningless ♪ ♪ Voice, meaningless ♪ You see when this goes red, it's reducing the high-end EQ of her voice. And that's also creating kind of a tonal shift, because really what the frequency response is is what you hear from the signals. So if we never let some of those high-end frequencies reach a certain point, that changes the frequency response of the sounds. So we're keeping it kind of dark but it's not too dark where it sounds like it's muffled, right. We're keeping it pleasantly dark when it needs to be dark, and we're doing that dynamically with the multiband compressor and the de-esser. And that's achieving a tonal balance that is optimum for this part of the song or for this vocal. And then of course, you have your volume balance, and we achieve some of that with the limiter. So I'll show you. ♪ Voice, meaningless ♪ ♪ I'm what you'll never be ♪ Now, based on all of the processing that I've gone through, it reduced her vocals down by about 12dB. Now, a fader can only go up and Cubase, it can only go up plus six. To counteract that, I just used a limiter to, if you use L1, you can bring down the threshold, which brings up your volume, so you can, the more I lower the threshold, the louder it gets. You'll see. ♪ But you're not what I made up ♪ ♪ A figment of a dream ♪ So I used negative 12 to kind of bring it back up to you know, to the level that it needed to be. Now, to achieve the volume balance of this part versus the song, you know, it depends on what's happening. You could be in a section of the song that's really loud. Let's say. Let me put this vocal part in a loud section and you'll see. This might sound really funny. (loud heavy rock) You can't even hear it at all. You know, because that section of the song is a completely different thing compared to this. ♪ You can't take away part ♪ So it's important to understand that the volume balance, you know, it's always moving, it's always gonna escape. You have to react to what's happening in the song, depends on how many elements are playing back and how loud they are. And achieving a proper tonal balance will help you achieve a proper volume balance. So if your sound is muddy, you're not gonna be able to find the right volume for that sound until it's not muddy. So you start with EQ, right, you create the clarity, then you create the definition, now your sound has the tonal balance and now you can find the volume balance by blending it into the song. Another thing that's interesting is this, when this vocal comes into the song here, the drums cut out. ♪ You can't take away ♪ And then, halfway through, the drums come back in. ♪ But you're not what I made up ♪ Now, that's when this part of the song starts to pick up a lot of energy. And so, I only had one take of this bridge vocal. I literally just recorded it once and that's what I got. Now, when I started mixing the song, I realized, okay, this part is picking up energy, the vocals need to actually pick up energy too. But I didn't have a performance to do that with, so my idea to make the vocal have more energy was to basically create this effect that I made in parallel. So I took the vocal track, and I duplicated it to another track, and I compressed it the same, but instead I added some delay, and actually some chorus, but that plug-in didn't load, so I'm gonna use a different chorus real quick. So it sounds like this. ♪ But you're not what I made up ♪ ♪ A figment of a dream ♪ ♪ You said you'd bring me to my ♪ So that's the same exact performance but with completely different effects on it. And then, when I bring in the original vocal on top of it, which is completely unaffected. ♪ But you're not what I made up ♪ So when I put those together. ♪ But you're not what I made up ♪ ♪ A figment of a dream ♪ ♪ You said you'd bring me to my ♪ It adds a little bit of extra character and energy to that part, which allows, you know, the build-up to function properly. So the thing that's interesting though is, at least what I find, is that by adding this chorus and this delay, it does change the tonal shift a little bit. It makes her vocals start to sound like there's a little more mid-range in there. It's not much and I wish I had a better example, but the basic idea is that you can take a vocal part, you can duplicate it into another track, you can add distortion on that, and then you can blend it in, you can use it as a mixing tool to kind of dynamically create these tonal shifts that will create energy in your mix. I could add like a distortion plug-in on this, and have it fade in. ♪ Not what I made up ♪ Yeah so if I was like. ♪ But you're not what I made up ♪ ♪ A figment of a dream ♪ ♪ You said you'd bring me to my knees ♪ It's a little bit extreme but you get the idea that you could use that as a tool to make something that was, you know, started out like this. ♪ You're not what I made up ♪ Sounds like a person just singing, you know, in a room. And bring that to a whole different level and make it more interesting. ♪ A figment of a dream ♪ ♪ You said you'd bring me to my knees ♪ (heavy rock music) See now when I did that earlier and it was on solo, it sounded kind of awful, but in the whole grand picture, the whole scheme of things, you can get away with doing kind of drastic stuff like that. And that, I think that's kind of the stuff, the secret sauce that makes mixing, or makes mixes very interesting, is knowing what you can get away with inside of these elements and not have them, you know, not looking at it from a solo point of view, but looking at it from a whole picture, listening to the whole song, and knowing what moves you're making and how that adjusts. Like, when we did the saturation on the drums earlier, that didn't sound 100% pleasant by itself, but in the whole grand scheme of the song, like in the big picture with the guitars and the vocals and everything happening, it sounds better because it creates more weight. It allows those drums to kind of poke through. And that's the thing that, I think, a lot of people don't get about distortion. They think like, well, why would I distort like a vocal when it's not supposed to be a distorted vocal part. But it can be used as a tool, so you can create more, you can create tonal balance using EQ and saturation by just as a tool to change how much weight there is and what the balance is between the different instruments.

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.