Possibly one of the most sought-after sounds in music, a warm mix is everything to some people. Beautiful, powerful low-end coupled with full mids and gentle highs. A warm mix sounds powerful without being abrasive. So how do we go about getting a warm mix? Check out these four tips below and see if you can’t turn up the temperature with your productions.
Although often quite costly technology, tubes really are going to offer so much towards a warm mix. As a rule, steer clear of digital plugins that claim to offer analogue tube tone. This isn’t to say that they are bad at doing other things but you simply cannot add tube warmth without physical tubes. The process of electrical signal warming up actual tubes is certainly a non-linear phenomenon that can’t be matched with a plug-in.
Tube pre-amps are one of the biggest things that come to mind here. Tracking things like vocals and bass guitar using tubes is an instant recipe for success. Their ability to bolster low-end whilst driving highs without being too harsh is unlike anything else. Now I’m aware that not all of you will be recording and might be looking to add some warmth to your digital productions. Fear not, I have an answer for you. Tube compressors. These are going to allow you to not only add tube warmth when going through the compression stage but will equally allow you to pass a signal through the tubes without needing to engage the compressor. This provides all that lovely tube warmth without squashing dynamic.
Soft Clipping / Saturation
Saturation is another great way to deliver some warmth into a mix. Here, the use of tape machines, as well as analogue pre-amps, can provide a little sizzle to a mix without sounding like terrible distortion. Picking up a cheap, old tape deck and hooking it into your patch bay can not only be affordable but it offers you a new variety of sounds to work with. By driving tape decks into the red, we engage the concept of tape saturation and we can provide a gentle dynamic squash to our mixes.
As the heading suggests, the aim here is to introduce soft clipping. Make sure you aren’t imparting full on hard clipped distortion or you’re going to end up with a bad mix, not a warm mix. Unlike tubes, this is something that plug-ins can reproduce quite well. The concept of non-linear algorithms work well within tape plugins such as the Kramer Master Tape, providing a nice push to individual sound sources or entire mixes.
Whilst not generating warmth in the conventional sense, ambience can contribute to creating a warm mix. This is likely to apply more within digital productions but does have some carry over to the analogue world. Getting a little gung-ho with gates can lead to quite cold, stale mixes. The lack of content and energy can make a mix sound quite dead and empty. Equally, utilising very short, snappy one-shot samples within a digital production without thinking about things like room ambience and release times can create the same issues.
Whilst we often think about warmth as a frequency related concept, it does apply to a general fullness within our mixes. If you’re sampling from breaks, try to let your drum hits run out as long as possible after the transient to create a more cohesive arrangement. Equally, when using gates in recording, try to only use them where necessary. Often we can just use EQ instead to let more of the room come through in our mixes.
This last one is quite subjective but can offer great results. We usually think about parallel compression as a way to beef up our buses. Typically, it is used on drum buses to create power whilst letting transients cut through the mix. However, parallel compression across an entire mix can provide a huge boost, contributing to a very warm mix.
This act of essentially doubling vocals and other aspects of the mix brings definition to particular areas across the frequency spectrum. Typically, this is mostly heard with the areas we associate with warmth. Parallel compression will create a warm, fat sound whilst still providing clarity. Unfortunately, this process is not a one-glove-fits-all technique. It’s something you will have to experiment with on a case by case basis.
So, ready for a Warm Mix?
Warm mixes are everything. Nobody wants their music to sound cold and sterile. Prepare for a warm mix before you set out creating your track. Use analogue tubes where you can as well as tape and digital saturation. Don’t be afraid of ambience to fill out your mix and try out some global parallel compression. You may be surprised how much all of this can add.