I've recently been writing music for a game and for the most part have felt very little need to spend significant time on mixing the music for each level. The level music will generally be pushed into the background and won't be the centre of focus for the game, this means that the slight mixing I do while writing the music (such as levelling, complimentary EQ) is satisfactory. However, the main theme of the game is not only going to play during the menus but it is also to feature in all the trailers and marketing for the game. So I thought it would be good to focus mostly on getting a decent mix for this track.
I would like to try and keep things neat and simple for this mix. The track itself is built of very minimal parts and I want to try and reflect that simplicity. There is a basic drum part, a guitar which takes up most of the composition, a simple bass line, electric piano and some strings. All of this has been written using Kontakt in my preferred DAW, FL Studio, so in order to mix in Pro Tools I have bounced all of the separate elements as WAV file stems with no processing. This really only presents an issue with the drum track.
Even though the drums are simple and my mixing strategy is to try and maintain that, I wanted to see if I could gain some kind of separation in the drums with only one track of audio to work with. I was thinking about the way I would mix a standard drum kit and what elements I would prefer to have for what purpose, for example; I wouldn't want to put too much, if any, reverb on the low end elements like the kick so I would want that separated. In any other instance I would probably apply reverb to just the overheads to give the whole kit space. Reverb and space for the kit in this track is extremely important because without appropriate reverb they will sound unnatural. So here's what I did;
The track on the left is my original drum track, what I have done is split the signal via a pre fader level send (DrumsNoBs, pink arrows). I have applied a high pass filter EQ with a Q of 24 db per octave at about 1.5khz to this channel, which leaves really only the higher end of the snare and the cymbals. I've then split that track to another send for reverb (Drum Verb, green arrows). This may be a bit of unnecessary step seeing as I could just put a reverb on the DrumsNoBs send but I prefer to have a drum reverb channel that I can control the level of independently. So what I have now is a stereo track for the high end of my drum kit with an accompanying reverb send. I can think of this as having left and right overheads tracks. Now, to bring the low end and mid range back into the drum kit I have sent the original track to a bus (Drum Comp, orange arrows) with a low pass filter that cuts everything from about 1.5khz down at 12 db per octave, and to really get some separation happening I've also added a gate that cuts out anything else but the kick and low end of the snare. I then add a plugin that sums this bus into mono and I now essentially have a kick and snare track that I can edit and process completely separate from the high end of the drum track. This allows me to add compression to the low end without creating a ducking effect with the cymbals and hats, and also allows me to keep reverb away from any of my low frequency content.
These examples may sound quite loud but they have been pulled from the final mix which has a bit of mastering on it, so the rest of the track does match this level, more about that later.
This is all I have really done with the drums, I didn't feel the need to EQ them because the samples through Kontakt sounded good the way they were, but I wanted to see if I could get this kind of separated control with a track that is all elements summed into one. Now that I know I can do this, I could possibly implement it down the track should I ever be working with a summed drum track with all drum elements in one.
I really liked the sound of the guitars without even mixing them, and the fact that you can add slide noises through Kontakt makes them sound surprisingly real. They did sound a bit muddy though, so I really only needed to do some basic mixing with the guitars, which meant doing some appropriate levelling, some EQ and a bit of reverb. In terms of levelling, rather than just finding a good level for the whole track I have automated the level of the guitars based on where other elements like the electric piano and strings come in.
Based on what elements are coming in where I have changed the level to adjust the dynamics of the track. For example, the first bit of electric piano I have dropped the guitars down quite a bit so that the piano has a bit of room to breathe, and when the first lot of strings come in I have dropped the guitar level even more, but when both strings parts are present I have left the guitars in he mix a bit more just to make that section a bit more full. Then right at the end where all the elements are present I've brought them right back down again. This saves me from having to compress my master track in order to get all of my elements equal; I can just automate the track that gives the song most of it's level so that everything sounds even all the way through.
I've also done a bit of EQ just to brighten up the guitar sound and move it away from the sub frequencies in the bass track, however I have left a bit of low end to fill up the sections where the bass stops and the guitar plays during the drum fills. I've added a small bit of compression as well just to keep the track even, then I've popped an Abbey Roads chamber reverb plugin on to give the guitar which offers a bit of space and makes them sound more natural. Here's an example of my guitars with and without all of this processing;
I made sure to give each of my elements just enough reverb to give them the right amount of space without losing the intimacy of a close sound. I also just did some slight panning with the string sections to separate them, offering a better stereo image, and other than that I didn't really do much else! Like I said, my goal for this mix was to keep the simplistic style of the composition and not over complicate the sound. With the exception of the drums and the guitars, everything else was just a matter of appropriate levelling, complimentary EQing and subtle reverb. I did a small amount of mastering on the master channel just to give the track a good over all level with a limiter set to a ceiling of -1 and a threshold of -0.6 db. Then a really light compressor just for a bit of level control and voila, a nicely balanced, simple mix.