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Mixing Master Class

Lesson 7 of 27

Volume Balance

Joey Sturgis

Mixing Master Class

Joey Sturgis

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Lesson Info

7. Volume Balance

Lesson Info

Volume Balance

Now, you also have volume balance, which is how loud the X is, versus Y. This is the most basic mixing thing there is, a volume knob. So, let me find this section here. (somber guitar music) Alright, this lead part, this is perfect. So, check out this guitar part. (somber guitar music) So, if I remove these two elements-- (somber guitar chords) So, we have that part, and then we have this part. (somber guitar chords) And then we have this part. (somber guitar chords) So, the balance of these three parts is what creates this entire section of the song. (somber guitar music) So, that wasn't there. (bass drum booms) You got nothing. So, the volume of this part mattered so much, that that's the hinge of everything. Everything is hinging on these three guitars being at the right volume. Now, if I have this middle guitar part, let's say I turn it up just a couple DB more. (somber guitar music) You notice some of those higher harmony notes are now a little too loud. I could take the chords, t...

urn those up a little more. (somber guitar music) Not bad, but it does start to mask the lead itself. It starts to make the chords too much of the focus, and this is the lead. (somber guitar chords) And if we were to, let's say, turn that down. (somber guitar music) It's kind of hard to focus on what's happening there. So, basically, if you have a dynamic and complex song, like this, you do have to learn; what does it take to get these things balanced properly? So, I'm gonna tell you my method; it's not necessarily the best method of doing things, but I think it works really well. So, I always start with things that have low energy, or bass, and I set the volume of those things first. So, in this section here we have this sound. (bass drum booms) It's like a bass drum. So, you notice, it's zero. I just left it the way it was. That was my first element, just mixing this part. That thing is first, that thing is zero. The next element is this bass thing. (bass hums) I know that might be hard to hear for the people that are streaming, but I tried to get those two things at the right level first. And, I compared those to the most exciting moments, like this moment, (heavy metal music) compared to this moment. (bass hums) So I made sure that going from there to there wasn't going to be a drastic change. It still needed to dive down, because the song gets softer, but the balance was- let's make this still audible enough to where it's not too low, it gets softer, but it still stays competitive with the rest of the song, and other areas in the song. So then, after I had those two things set, the only element that was left was the guitar. So, with the guitar, I started with the rhythm track. And, I would set the level of that rhythm track, in comparison to those bass things. (somber guitar music) So here it's off. (somber guitar music) And then of course, you have the piano that comes in. So if you consider-- Let's take the vocals out of this. (somber guitar music) So I wanna make sure that's still audible, even when those other elements come in. So, you could do it-- it depends on the part, obviously, but you could do it to where maybe the beginning needs to be a different volume than the second half, it depends. It could be an automation thing. It could be a situation where during this section, it is loud enough. (guitar chord) But then when you add in the strings and the piano, (alternative music) it starts to get lost. Now, with this song in particular, I didn't really do that type of-- I didn't approach it that way. But, you certainly could have taken some volume automation here, and made that part build more energy, as the different elements start to add in. (alternative music) That's cool. And then, the second thing, the next element that I would approach would be the second guitar part. I would just balance that against the original. But, keep everything playing back, 'cause no one's ever gonna hear this solo, so you always play back every element. (alternative music) And, I had the luxury of producing this song, too, so I knew that the band wanted that middle lead. They didn't want it very loud. So, that was enough information for me to be able to tuck it in there just right. But, if you're approaching this song blindly, you have no clue-- You might think, "oh, that sounds awesome, I'll turn it up really loud." So, that's where a good reference mix will kick in. Having the reference mix and knowing, "oh, okay, that middle lead is barely audible there, they must want it really quiet". So, that's one way. And then, finally, the lead is the next part that I would bring in, volume-wise. (alternative music) Now, going back a little bit to EQ; we can set the levels of this stuff all day long, but the tonal shift might have to change, because as you turn the volume up, you're also raising the bass, you're raising the noise floor, you're raising the high-end. Everything is going up, like this. There might be moments where you need it to not be as loud, but you still need it to be more audible in certain frequency ranges. And so, that's where you're gonna bring in you EQ. So, I have two EQ adjustments here that just add a little bit more mid-range and a little bit more high-end. (alternative music) So, see without that. And then with it. (alternative music) It's just that extra little 10% that makes it kinda stick out, and especially when the other elements come in. (alternative music) You notice how it completely disappeared when I turned the EQ off? You could've tried to automate the volume, but that would've changed the goal. That would've increased the bass, or whatever. I do want to just have the eyes open on the idea that you can change, you can automate EQ to go up and down, as necessary, as well. You could've had this first section like this. (alternative music) And then when all the elements come in, you can automate this. (alternative music) But, that would sound weird if it was left-- (alternative music) It's way too powerful. So, everything is kind of moving, and you're creating a blend by moving a lot of things around, and you need to use-- all these things work together to create the final balance that you know as a good mix. So, yeah. I guess that pretty much wraps that part up on balance. I know there's some other balances that we'll talk about later, like spatial balance, but that really kind of deserves its own section. So, is there any questions on this so far? How often would you go to automating a post, or maybe duplicating in the track, and then setting up a different part of the audio there, and making your plug-in different, or something like that? Right. So, I like to keep my projects fairly simple in terms of automation, because if you have lots and lots of layers of automation, it can start to get really hard to manipulate, and to, what I like to say, maintain. What I mean by that is, if you're working with an artist, you could go between 10 and 20 revisions on a song. And if you're working with automation within all that, it can become a great mess. So, I will create copies of things, and try to keep it to where there's only one or two tracks of automation for every track. So if there's a goal that I have in mind that I wanna accomplish and it's gonna require me to change three or four things, I'll put it in a new track, and that will allow me to maintain different versions and different mixes; different tweaks on the same instrument. This part, in particular; if I wanted to have the clean tone, for example. Let's say I wanted it to get more and more distorted as it was going through the section, I probably would have one version that was absolutely clean, just in case the artist didn't like my distortion idea, so that if they do wanna go back to the clean, all it is, is a mute switch. I could open the song back up, mute my distorted one, and unmute the clean one, and boom, I'm back to where I was. And I think it's important to be mindful of doing things like that, so that you don't put yourself in a situation that is, basically, hard to back out of. So, I try to keep it open-ended, to where, if the person is requesting one thing, it's not gonna be too difficult for me to do. I wanna keep my options open, and make it easy to support the song. Sure. So we did have one questions in regards to tonal balance, and this is something that always comes up regarding low-end. How did you train yourself to treat your low-end properly, and are there any pitfalls one should avoid when learning to acquire the talent of proper low-end balancing? So, I think it really is an issue of just ear training, and listening to productions and mixes that are well done, and being able to acquire almost a taste for it; to know when is too much bass, and you kind of just know that by listening to music. You have to also keep an open mind on the kind of music that you listen to. I notice a lot of people that they'll say, "I don't like rap, so I'm just not going to listen to it". But, I think if you get into doing this, professionally, and you want to be really good at mixing, you have to be open-minded to listen to rap, and know what is that. What kind of mix do they expect? What is the expectation of rap? What is the expectation of metal? A metal song might have way more mid-range than a rap song. And those audiences expect those types of balances, right? You might have a drum and bass, where the bass is a lot louder than the drums, or the drums are a lot louder than the bass, and that's kind of the expectation of that style of music. And, so when you're working on that style of music, you gotta mix that way. It's not always-- there's not a one-trick path to doing this. And I think it's knowing, like I said earlier with the three things we had, knowing the job that you're doing, knowing the person you're working for, and then knowing the song that you're working on. If you have a good expectation of those three things, and in good knowledge of what the person is asking of you, then you can work towards those goals. And sometimes, it might require you to mix bass-heavy. There might be an A&R guy who is putting songs on the radio, and he's like, "hey, everything you're sending me just doesn't have enough bass". But, you've never had anyone say that to you before, well the expectation of these mixes now, is to have more bass. So, you might have to figure out, okay, what kind of tonal balances do I need to do? What kind of saturation do I need to do? What kind of EQ do I need to do to get my mix to be more bass-ey but not too bass-ey? You don't wanna go too far in that direction, but you still wanna achieve that overall goal.

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.