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Beginners Tutorial - Tips For Making Beats (part 2)
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In part 1, we learned how to structure your song, get the melody and layer your tracks. This part will talk about the art of mixing and mastering.

Mixing

Solo each track to see how they sound individually. EQ if you have to in order to add sparkle to hi-hats or boom to kick drum. It is mostly always better to subtract frequencies rather than to add them. Group instruments in the same frequency domain together such as all the bass instruments (e.g. kick, bass.) You want to hear them all clearly. Then do the drums together. Solo the kick first, then bring in the snare. See how they work together. Then bring in the tom and then hi-hat. Do they all sit together nicely? Then start bringing in the other instruments making sure they sit well together to see if the whole song works well.

EQ if you have to and maybe pan more. Are the levels good? If you find that you are distorting (which you never, ever want to do!) check that levels are good individually and go through the tracks soloing and bringing the different instruments in one by one until you get the distortion. Then EQ or just bring the level fader down a bit. It is probably going to be one of the bass instruments as lower frequencies carry more energy than higher frequencies. Use low and high pass filters to filter frequencies that might overlap with other instruments. You will know when you are distorting as the meter will be red!

Add effects and interesting samples and vocals. Put your own stamp and style on your music. Some of the best stuff to come out of a studio have been because people were messing around and experimenting. Ask yourself what would that sound like if I did that to that whilst doing this!? Speak or sing through a toilet roll pressed up against a wall for example and add an effect to it. If your beat maker can’t provide effects such as reverse, use Audacity (its free!) to process your sound files and import them back into your sequencer for editing.

You want to leave enough headroom for effects so make sure that your recording levels and overall mix on the separate channels are all around -6 dB. This will allow you to add effects without distortion. With all effects and the song ready to go, the overall level you should be looking at is around -3 dB. You can then master your track with compression and adding dither and overall EQ.

Mastering

This is an element to sound production all by itself and is usually done by mastering engineers. Record all of your tracks onto one stereo track of your beat creator sequencer. Compress and make sure that the song is sitting well. Remember to check the levels for distortion. You can use mastering tools such as EQ. Add dither. Dither is, very basically, noise which is added to the signal to randomize quantization errors. You are now ready to bounce to disk. This is where you will make a master copy of your track. It must be in the highest fidelity possible as it is easy to reduce from 24 bit, 96 kHz down to 16 bit, 44.1 kHz than it is to up sample. Red book CD standard which is what you hear on the radio is 16 bit, 44.1 kHz. You can use Audacity or LameXP, which are free, to encode to MP3 should you wish to. If you are going to use MP3’s, make sure they are at 320 kbps which is the best quality. Look after your ears by having breaks and mix at low levels for most of the time. This stops ear fatigue and tinnitus! If the software you are using does not have these features, you can save a WAV file, then upload it to Audacity and master in there for your final master track.

As mentioned, these are guidelines for you so that you can start in the right direction. You just have to trust what your ears are telling you, experiment and above all, enjoy using the process.

A great beginners program to make beats with is Dubturbo which you should check out.


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