Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

August 19, 2005

Lessons cover the importance of mix balance, building automation skills, effects processing from simple EQ to complex topics such as using bussing and key signals to trigger dynamics processors, approaches to using reverb, and time domain processing such as delays, flanging, and chorusing. The last portion of the class covers mastering, looking at the technical as well as the creative issues involved.

Course instructor and Berklee professor Jeff Baust believes that the best and most enjoyable way to learn mixing is to do it, so students learn from doing hands-on mixing projects. And, because it often helps to watch someone else first, the course includes numerous streaming “movies” that let students watch, step-by-step, as Jeff demonstrates various mixing and mastering techniques.

Each week, students upload mixes that they’ve completed in each lesson’s assignment, and then receive feedback from Jeff as well as their classmates. A typical three-minute song can contain hundreds of megabytes of data, which is a lot of information to upload and share online. To remedy that potential problem, when they enroll, students receive a CD-Rom with a number of audio files and Pro Tools session documents. Once they complete a mix, they upload just the session files—not the audio. When fellow students download the session and open it in Pro Tools, the software pulls up those same files on their own computer.

Students say they get a lot of ideas, tips, and techniques from seeing how someone else mixed the same song that they worked on, using the exact same tools that they used. “We can download each student’s project and look at aspects of the mix, then we can all give comments and feedback online, in the discussion board. For example, perhaps the kick drum is getting buried in a student's mix. We can look at their Pro Tools session, check out their settings, and perhaps suggest that the student try a longer attack time on the compressor, or a different EQ setting, and so forth,” Jeff said. “That’s really where you learn to mix: have someone else give you suggestions of what settings to try.”

While the audio files provided with the course are pop/rock music examples, the mixing concepts covered in the class apply to most musical styles and mixing situations. “We are going over essential mixing techniques and skills. The song is just a vehicle to learn these skills—a lump of clay that we learn how to sculpt with, so to speak,” Jeff said. Students can then apply these same techniques to other styles such as hip-hop, country music, or whatever genre they work in. Also included for the duration of the course is the Waves S1 Stereo Imager, as well as the Masters Bundle plug-in from Waves (Over $1200 in plug ins, available only for the duration of the course). Tools included in the Masters Bundle include the Linear Phase Equalizer, Linear Multi Band, and the L2 Ultramaximizer.

Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools is much more than a software-specific course. “Looking at the course from one angle, it is very Pro Tools–specific,” Jeff said. “They’ll get an inside view on some shortcuts and ‘power tools’ that help them build Pro Tools chops—and they’ll have fun doing it.” But the mixing techniques and concepts covered apply to any software package, as well as analog studio gear. “The settings and windows might be different, but the concepts and techniques are applicable to any mixing situation.

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