I am infamous for having my kicks knocking when it comes to my beats - and I mean they are knocking hard. Most of the time it's unintentional, but it all boils down to my mixing, and how clean of a job I do. It goes a lot farther than just having a dope melodies and the right drums in place - it falls on how well everything is meshed together. In the event that you're posting a beat on Youtube, showing it to a potential artist/customer(s), or something you want to display on the Internet, or on the aux cord, etc., you gotta make sure your mix is straight.
Before I jump in this I'll make this clear: No mix is the same. Every beat is different and everything is subjective; what you might do for one beat may not apply to the other, and that's ok. There's really no rules to it; as long as your mix is clean, loud, and sounds professional it don't matter what steps you took to get it to sound that way.
Here's a beat I made solely for this blog, just so you can follow along with me on how my mixing process goes. This beat is completely raw: no reverb, no delay, no panning, no leveling, no EQ, no nothing. I'll update the beat as I go along.
First things first is to level them. That just means adjusting the volume of each sound. For this beat (and for a lot of them), your main melody should stick out the most, so keep that in mind while mixing everything. It's the lead actor of the show, and the rest of the crew - your drums, other instruments, sometimes countermelodies, and your bass - is behind the scenes. This doesn't mean to make everything extra quiet and let the main melody standalone, but to keep in mind that it needs to be heard. The 808 or bass is up to you; some beats require them to be in your face and being the star of the show, while others rely on them to be more subtle and in the background. For this beat, we'll have the 808 a little less dominant. As for the rest of the sounds, it all falls on having a good ear and knowing what sounds plays a role. My string and guitar are gonna be apart of my hook, so I turn them down enough so they're not overpowering my keys, but still doing their respective parts. My main drums (kick, hi hat, and clap) are more important to me than my percussion, so I'll turn down the shaker and bongo down a lot more to let the rest of the drums shine some more.
Right now, the beat sounds like this, and this is only after I leveled it. Sounds a lot better, a lot of the drums and instruments aren't clashing as much, and you can hear everything much more clearly now. However, it still sounds dry. It's like you got your patty, but you're missing some of the condiments and other things needed in it. Next thing Imma get into is panning.
Panning really just means to adjust your sounds to the left ear, right ear, or center it (everything is always centered at default). I know I said there's no rules to this.....but THERE'S A FEW TABOOS!!!! It's ok to experiment, but I HIGHLY suggest not doing these when panning:
do NOT pan your kicks whatsoever. Leave them centered
don't ever completely pan your snare/clap/rim to one side. I personally wouldn't have it panned more than 50% to the left or right
if you only have one melody/instrument, I would advise against panning it off to one side too much. It would be better if you have the panning bounce back and forth instead.
don't pan the bass and/or 808s. If you get crazy with your 808 slides and everything and want to pan them, go for it. But if they aren't that crazy, just keep them centered like the 808.
On this track, I'm gonna leave my hats and clap centered, pan my percs between 20-50% in each ear, and slightly pan my guitar and string, so that they both each stand out a little more. For my keys, I'm going to have more of a stereo separation for them - that way they sound a little more spaced out and full. So now, after the beat has been panned and leveled it sound like dis. Already sounding like a winner, but it still ain't there yet.
Effects & EQ
The fun part is adding the effects to it - reverb, delay, flanger, and all that other good stuff. Equalizing, or EQing, is not so much fun....it can get more frustrating than not when it comes to cutting off and raising the low, mid, and high ends of sounds. I might as well get into that first.
I don't think this beat will need too much EQing, but let's do it for at least one or two sounds. My piano has a bass note playing, and I have both a kick and my 808. The kick isn't too much of a problem because it's not so as low-end as my 808 is. Both my 808 and keys are priorities, but I need my 808 to stay in the low ends; my keys' lower notes can be cut off a little bit while still retaining the sound. Once I'm done with that, I feel as if my guitar needs to be EQ'd somewhat; it clashes too much with my string and high keys for my personal liking. So I'm going to give it more of a dirtier feel and give the other sounds more space by cutting off its higher frequencies. I'm going to make up for that by raising its middle frequencies. If it's necessary, go ahead and also re-adjust your leveling until you feel as though everything sounds perfect. (I also added some bass notes to my keys to make them not sound so thin.)
Now that the hard work is over with, it's time to get to the fun stuff! Here's a few of my own personal do's/dont's:
no reverb on the kick unless I'm going for that ambient, R&Bish vibe (which today I'm not)
little to no reverb on the bass
reverb on my main melodies always! The amount always depends
sometimes I put flanger on and widen my samples to give it a fuller feeling to it (I use Fruity Flanger for this)
whenever I use delay, I always have it bounce between the left and right ears
Knock 'em out the park Rick. Just have fun with it, but try not to go overboard and add 15 different effects. After adding my things the beat sounds like this, and almost sounds like the finished project. It's a few more things I wanna do to it though.
I'm gonna sidechain my kicks to my 808, so my kicks can hit a little hard. When I do this, it causes my 808s to duck in volume everytime my kick hits. This causes the kick to punch harder as well, so it's a little more prominent. I don't want the kicks to cause holes in my walls, but I don't want them to be too quiet to where the 808 overshadows them. It's a matter of finding that equilibrium and sticking with it. As soon as I can find the sweet spot, both your 808/bass and kick should sound clean. This step isn't necessary for every beat, but personally I do it so my kicks can stand out a little more. Selecting the right kick is also crucial for this, but the way your bassline or 808 melody is set up plays a part too. They both ended up sounding like this. It might not be the hugest difference maker, but sometimes it'll step the beat up from a B+ to an A-.
Normally, to make my beat louder I use Fruity Soft Clipper. A compressor or limiter works, whatever method makes your beats louder can be suitable. Not big on using compressor too much but, please do NOT overdo it on it. It can oftentimes destroy your mix, so maybe a preset or restricting how much you're compressing the beat will prevent you from ruining the complete sound. I never put reverb, delay, or anything like that on my master; just things to help increase the loudness of the mix. Here's the final look of the beat. I think I'm about done with the mixing on this beat, and like that it went from a cluttered, confusing, D+ sounding beat to a much cleaner, bouncier, and A-level worth beat.
Long story short, mixing will definitely take your beat places. No matter how good you are, if your sounds are not mixed properly and your low-ends are clashing, your stuff is all panned into the right ear, and nothing is leveled properly, it's gonna turn away a lot of people. Take the time to mix correctly, and there is no specific order that you have to do it in - but you have to do it. There's no rules to it, as I stated already before. Just make sure it sounds clean and top-notch and you're in the clear. And it all takes practice, time, trial and error. Keep at it consistently and git guud.