Top Down Mixing? This is a Better Method

Here’s the video:

Here’s the script and a few extra notes:

I was going to do a tutorial on Top Down mixing but after playing around a bit I found a better mix strategy

Another mix workflow tutorial.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of top down mixing, there is a school of thought that the less digital signal processing the better. Purity of the signal is preserved with the less processors that are used.

Saves CPU power

Saves time

Top Down Mixing its name from the signal flow hierarchy. The master buss is at the top then group busses and then individual tracks. After experimenting with the top down mixing strategy, I discovered that I prefer to start with busses first.

Here’s how to do it.

If you have Hornet’s VU Meter plugin, run that first. This will get your initial gain staging in check and makes the second step easier. It’s a very cheap plugin that I recommend everyone buy.

Next, let the song play and adjust anything that is obviously too loud or too quiet using track faders.

The third step is to create your group busses. Put EQ, saturation and compressor plugins on each then adjust them. If you are a fan of processor heavy software like Acustica Audio, this is a great place to take advantage of the CPU savings.

After the busses are sounding good, go to your master buss. Add saturation, EQ and buss compressor plugins. Maybe a little bit of room reverb as well. Last, a brickwall limiter to protect speakers. Don’t go overboard and be mindful of your gain staging.

Next, set up your group busses. Again, EQ and saturation plugins and maybe compression.

Bonus Tips:

Here are my overall steps, combining this video with the How to Start a Mix video (

1. Save session to appropriate folder.
2. Drop in just the lead vocals.
3. Let Hornet VU Meter do its thing if gainstaging is bad.
4. A crappy brickwall limiter set to bring levels up about +10 decibels and Sonarworks Reference on master channel
5. EQ cuts on lead vocal track. If there is more than one track, make a buss and EQ on it.

6. Lead vocals compression + tape and console saturation. At this point, drop speakers volume down pretty low and add pre-FX volume automation. Automate the lead vocals until you can hear every word at that low volume.
7. Add background vocals.
8. Mute Lead vocals, for now.
9. Gain stage and create a buss.
10. EQ and compress the buss. Add tape/console saturation as well.

11. Unmute lead vocals. If necessary, thin out background vocals (the 3 to 5 kHz range is usually effective here by cutting)
12. Add second most important element of mix. For me, this is usually the drums or lead guitar.
13. Repeat the usual steps. Clean EQ for cuts, compression then character EQ for boosting. After that, tape and console saturation.
14. Drums usually get the 1176 all buttons in effect.
15. After everything is sounding pretty good overall throughout the whole song, it’s time to start panning and adding delays/reverb. I like a pan law of -4.5.

16. Master buss processing is last. Console saturation plugin first then usually an EQ then compression. Follow that up sometimes with a VERY small amount of room reverb. Finally, 1/2″ tape saturation.
17. At this point, adjust the brickwall limiter’s threshold slider. -10 dB RMS is a good compromise for too quiet vs. too compressed.

More and more I am releasing music where I want to avoid the brickwall limiter at all costs. But, the customer gets the final say on that. The important thing with all of this for me is to keep headroom. The brickwall limiter setting at +10 dB from the beginning helps keep everything in check.

I use Ozone on IRC I mode with the Character slider on 0.00 because if my levels are going over -10 dBFS I want to hear it! IRC III mode on clipping also sounds bad but uses more CPU.

One caveat with bussing everything is it makes archiving tougher. I think I will save compression (except drums) for individual tracks. So, clean (IIEQ Pro, IK White Channel or Fabfilter Pro Q2) cuts on individual tracks + compression then routed to the busses for “character” EQ like PINK, Navy, Purple/Ruby/whatever.

The way I work with my own recordings is that Mix on the Go strategy: That may not work for everyone but it does for me because I’d use real hardware EQs/compressors on the way in before hitting the A/D converter but I don’t have $20,000 to spare for music production. So, “Mix on the Go” it is!

I usually save master buss processing for last. A lot of engineers like to mix into a compressor but I never liked doing that. Compared to some tracks that I’ve seen on Sound on Sound, I use a lot less plugins than other engineers with the exception of vocals. Vocals are a pain in the ass and require a lot of automation and processing to sit on top of the mix. Especially if a condenser microphone is used!

Audified DW Drum Enhancer Review

Video review of the new plugin from Audified:


The product page claims that One click sets up your system and the only thing you have to care about is the fine tuning and gentle saturation of your sound. You save your time and insert slots and CPU power.

User reviews on the web site were solid, so I was really looking forward to trying Drum Enhancer out. For this video version 1.0.2 was used.

Level in – Input trim. Set so that the signal is around 0. So, peaks are happening in the yellow lights.

Noise gate, compressor, EQ, saturation,

By default “0” on the meters is -9 dBFS. This can be changed.

Go through the controls.

EQ Position – Before or after compressor

Saturation: Presence is enhanced upper mids.
Vintage – Smoother high end, even harmonics
Brown – Even frequency response except a touch of high end enhancement
White – Enhanced highs
Lofi – Less lows and highs

When you change the drum type, under the hood a bunch of parameters are changing. Compressor and EQs. EQ frequencies and bandwidths. Compressor attack and release times. Knee shapes and sidechain filters. High and low pass frequencies. Noise gate attack/release times.

The quickest way to set the plugin up is Change default calibration level to peaks around 0. Then choose a preset that sounds good.

Advanced Method:
– Input trim so peaks are hitting around “0”.
– Choose Drum Type
– Phase inverse if needed
– Noise gate controls
– Compressor controlers
– EQ controls
– Compressor Makeup (this is pre-saturation module)
– Saturation flavor and then amount

Input/output control link?

Not easy to cycle through presets.

Inaudible signal when track was paused.

Low CPU bothers me. There are multiple modules happening. On other plugins, this would add up to more CPU. Not a fan of the EQ. Saturation seemed good and whatever is enhancing worked but the comp was also not that great either.

Fine for quick mixes but I would recommend Waves Signature Series Bass and Drums over this. Right now it’s on sale for $89 they are cheaper and better than DW Drum Enhancer. But as always I suggest trying all the products out though and deciding for yourself where to spend your hard earned money.

How to Start a Music Mix

Here are the videos:

And here’s the script:

This seems to be a common question for new audio engineers. This is what comes after mix prep. I have an in depth tutorial on how to prepare a mix already, which is linked down below.

First, make sure that your session sample rate matches your files. Then, save your project.

Next, turn your audio interface software faders up. When mixing, you should not peak past around

-8 dBFS on the meters. So, they’ll need to be louder than when mixing to mastered music or internet videos. Otherwise, you will lose headroom.

Instead of adjusting your software faders a trick I do is to put Ozone on IRC I mode or LoudMax on the master and set the threshold control to -10 dB. This way, the overall volume of the mix is

brought up by 10 decibels. Then, I just make sure my track peaks don’t go past about -8. It’s important to use a limiter that doesn’t sound too good, so IRC mode I is what I go with.

The kick drum is usually the track hitting the highest peak. You save the volume raising for the final steps.

Reference 4 or ARC is then put as the last plugin. I could put it on the monitoring FX panel but it’s easier to disable it on the master channel.

Everything is done in mono at first with no spatial effects. Reference’s mono switch works in this case. Some people swear by disabling one speaker and moving the active speaker to the center spot. I’m usually fine with dual mono though.

At this point, drop your vocal track in. I’ve found that doing tracks one by one is less intimidating than dropping say 40 tracks into a session all at once. It keeps you focused on the task at hand.

I prefer to start with lead vocals because they are the most important element in most mixes. They should be the center of attention. People tend to sing along to songs more than they play air guitar or air drums.

Trim the volume down if necessary then EQ for clarity, a couple compressors plus tape and console emulation plugins. Reverb, delay and other plugins like that will be added later.

After the vocals are sounding good. Enable volume (pre-FX) automation. Lower the software volume control so that you just barely hear most of the lyrics. The goal is to be able to hear every word at a low volume.

Add background vocals next and give them the same treatment. Solo’d at first and then add the lead vocals in.

Next, add the second most important element of the song. If you or the musicians you’re mixing for can’t decide then go with rhythm guitars or piano. That’s because I’ve found these elements tend to have frequency clashes with vocals the most. I like to solo this track at first and then add vocals in once I get EQ and compression sounding good.

Start at the final chorus or crescendo of the mix where most if not all tracks will be playing simultaneously. Again, we’re only going to use equalizers, dynamics and saturation processing for now. The goal is to be able to hear every note along with the vocals.

Your third most important element goes next. In a typical mix, only three elements can usually be heard loud and clear. For a rock mix, lead guitar usually comes next. It can clash with the rhythm guitars and vocals pretty easily. Again, at first I’ll solo the track, EQ and compress to get it sounding good and then I’ll bring the rest of the tracks in one by one starting with vocals.

Bass comes next. Once again, start solo’d then fade it up with the rest of the mix. This reinforces the rhythm section and tends to stay out of the way. You should be able to hear most bass notes without a subwoofer. If not, check out my tutorial on how to make this happen linked below.  

If you have synth parts I’ll usually put these next.

Next, drums. Maybe put a sidechain on the bass that is triggered off the kick drum. Make a bus for the all buttons in 1176 trick (Slate Digital Monster is a free effect that simulates this quite nicely).

Everything else. Again, start at the busiest part of the mix which is usually the final chorus. Everything should sound pretty good when completely dry. This ensures the greatest amount of track separation. When the dry mix sounds good in mono, it’s time to start adding reverb, delay and panning to the equation. Post effects fader adjustments will be necessary.

Automation is the last step. This should take about 1-2 more hours and it adds life to the mix. It adds variety. It lets parts stand out. When less tracks are playing, they should sound bigger.