This tutorial was requested by a Google Plus friend of mine Qbik and I decided to do a step by step tutorial showing you guys how to mix a saxophone. I’ll be using an alto sax for this tutorial.
Brass and woodwind sounds always sound good when they are recorded live as compared to using a vst plugin. On this blog post I wont talk about recording or programming, but just make sure the saxophone is well recorded and already sounds good from the source.
If you’re ready and believe you’ve captured a great sound then we can move on to mixing. Check the audio we’ll be working on below:
As you can hear on the audio example above, the alto sax was well recorded and doesn’t need much mixing. That’s exactly what you have to strive for if you want your mixes to sound professional, get it right from the source.
The 1st thing I did was to add compression, an eq and then added some effects to make it one with other sounds in the mix.
Saxophone Compression Settings
When you have a well recorded signal then you wont need much compression which helps the sax to sound more natural. For brass sounds, I prefer to use mild compression just to make the volume constant through out the whole mix.
The sax I’m working on was recorded in mono, I don’t like recording in stereo because it can cause phase cancellation and I want my sounds to be clear and punchy not just bright.
I added a mono compressor by FabFilter, the compressor is not doing much on the sound. It’s just taming out the loud peaks and keeping the volume even. I used a fast attack and a fast release time to keep the alto sax punchy and to avoid messing up the tone.
I used a ratio of 3:1 and a gain reduction of about -3dB, with a make up gain of 3dB.
Equalizer Setting For Sax
This is the most tricky part because it really depends on how the sax was recorded and what your end goal is. So I’m not going to generalize the EQ settings, I’ll show you what I did to make the saxophone I’m working on sit well in the mix.
What I did was to simply cut out the low-end till around 100Hz. Then added some punch and warmth by making a boost at 200Hz. The sax had some boxiness and I had to clean that by cutting at 492hz. For the upper mids I removed some nasal noise at 1.2kHz and boosted the presence at 5.1kHz.
Finally I added some air by creating a high-shelf boost at 11kHz. Here’s a saxophone eq chart I have created and hope it does help you equalize your sax sounds proper. I know it’s not accurate but it will guide you to the right direction.
Rumble: below 110Hz
Bottom/Punch: 125Hz – 250Hz
Fullness: 250Hz- 450Hz
Honk/Nasal: 500Hz – 1.6kHz
Presence/Edge: 2kHz – 6kHz
Definition: 6kHz – 8kHz
Air: 10kHz – 17kHz
Effect and Saturation For Saxophone
For the final touches I added reverb, delay and tape saturation to help the sax sit well in the mix and create space, depth as well as width. The saxophone was recorded in mono so a mono reverb was a good choice and it sounded good.
A plate or room reverb works really well on woodwind and brass sounds, for this one I chose a plate. I also removed some high frequencies on the reverb signal and used a medium reverb time (tail).
The sound was mono, to add some stereo I used a stereo delay. But it was a timed delay, meaning it was in sync with the BPM of the song. A slap wasn’t a good option because I wanted to add more width so I used a timed ping-pong delay.
To add some harmonic excitement I added some tape saturation to the sound. I tried a lot of distortion plugins on this one and the FabFilter Saturn plugin added some nice harmonics, warmth and vintage sound to the sax.
After all that processing, the sax mix was sounding really dope. Remember to keep the sax sounding natural and use subtle amount of processing on it.
Here are the final results:
Mixed Sax With The Music
As you can hear, that was a major difference from the original source. Hope this tutorial helps you get your sax to gel well with the entire mix and become one with the song. If you have any questions then leave a comment below.