Sound design is extremely important in EDM.
Producers work tirelessly to craft new and exciting sounds and textures. So pay special attention to that!
A really cool sounding, catchy lead line will make or break a record – so if you are mixing someone else’s stuff you have to acknowledge and compliment those textures.
If something sounds weird or off, catering the rest of the mix around that sound is better than suppressing what the producer worked very hard to create.
Likewise, designing the ambiance is also extremely important. It’s important to create a sense of space and environment, as long as it isn’t impeding other things in the mix.
Taking a little extra time to really analyze the texture and timing of your reverbs and delays is well worth it.
Do not fear automation! EDM = automation. Half the arrangement is based on the changing of textures, sounds, and levels. Moving filters, rising pads, pumping bass, any and everything constantly morphs from one thing to the next.
If you are producing, change those dials in real time. If you are mixing, think of the music as a kid and you are helping it cross the road. You lead each moment into the next.
Another way to help the song cross the street is a technique I call “frequency sharing.” As one element drops out, another may come up in its place.
Through EQ you can match the new element to the old one – and so the energy of the former is handed to the new like a baton. If that makes sense. If something bright suddenly drops off, and nothing picks it up, the result will not feel like a cohesive transition.
Sometimes that’s what you want, but usually not. If you do want to move into a section that strips down, it’s often better to have elements fade away, rather than clean stop.
So if you are moving from a bright section to a dark one, a fading white noise might be smoother than simply a jolting change.
In terms of image, MIX IN MONO. Not all club systems are stereo – so if your mix doesn’t work in mono, it won’t work in a club with mono playback. This isn’t to say you need to bow to mono functionality – but lay off the wideners. If you need a sound to be wider, don’t fake it or force it. Use another element panned out one way.
Wide stereo synths are much narrower than separate mono elements that are panned apart. If you want wide, you have to produce it that way, not mix it that way. Let your leads live in the center.
Use reverb, delay, and other elements to fill out the side information – this way if you lose it, you haven’t killed your record!
This article is very stream of consciousness. I hope people comment and ask questions below as there is probably a million more things that could be said on this subject.
But in the meantime, this should provide a few basic concepts that will step up your game when producing EDM.
Matthew Weiss is the head engineer for Studio E, located in Philadelphia. Recent credits include Ronnie Spector, Uri Caine, Royce Da 5’9” and Philadelphia Slick.
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