One of the most extensive mixing resources I’ve come across that doesn’t cost a dime is a free library of multi-track wav files, hosted at Cambridge-mt.com. The resources originally accompanied Mike Senior’s “Mixing Secrets for the Small Studio” book (#1 best seller on Amazon in the Acoustic Engineering category). The files can be freely downloaded for mixing practice; no other license is granted unless you want to ask the original artist for an exception.
The library includes well over 200 songs to practice on. There are dozens of genres to choose from, including some pretty strange stuff in many languages. Of course, if you just want basic singer-songwriter, classical, rock or pop, it has those as well.
If you need a quick primer on mixing before diving into the practice tracks, visit our Tech Beginnings pages.
- Tech Beginnings — Digital Audio Workstations: Mixing Tracks
- Tech Beginnings — Live Sound: Audio Mixers
My Experience with the Resource
I was introduced to this resource in an online live sound production class. It’s an interesting challenge figuring out how to give students live sound experience over the internet. These resources proved very useful since many of them are in the same state you’d get them if you were running a live show. The main caveat for the class was we only had a few passes to get everything mixed as well as possible. The theory being that it would emulate where we’d be after running a sound check and the actual gig.
Some notes on things students (or yourself) might encounter with an exercise like this:
I won’t mention any track names, to not give students any hints. The first song I chose to mix was 27 tracks. Since I was simulated a live gig, I only altered levels, added a single gate, compressor and EQ on some tracks, with nothing on the master and no automations. I did have to ride the piano fader a bit to get it right, even with a compressor. There was also a spot where the vocals would have been a disaster live; fortunately, I was doing the mix in a DAW. The strangest thing about mixing just in post is not having any control over how the audio was originally recorded. Much of the challenge that comes with being a live sound engineer is mitigated by setting good levels early on; in this case, you have no control over that.
The second mix was 23 tracks, with obnoxiously phasey horns; they were probably from a sample library and are still riddled with comb filtering. It was an issue I couldn’t do anything about, since the horns were already mixed down to a single track. If they were all separate, I could at least nudge them around and try to get them as phase coherent as possible. Unlike the first mix, I relied more on riding faders and setting levels, then added plug-ins even more sparingly. Instead of compressing, I’d ride faders before and after solos, like I would at an actual show. If you’re practicing for studio mixing, then these types of decisions don’t matter as much. Post-production DAW work has a lot more ways to get to the same end; but when it’s a live gig, simplicity in how you mix can avoid disaster and is often essential.
My third mix had 45 tracks, but I almost immediately whittled it down to 32. The six, horrible DI tracks were easy targets for the trash. This one was another case of too much processing going in. I used Native Instrument’s Transient Master to remove some reverb and spent most of my time getting the dozen guitar tracks to sound less messy and more coherent. It’s a good lesson in making decisions while recording. If a guitar take isn’t working well enough, delete it in the moment so you don’t have to waste time later. Of course, my decisions were probably different than what the original producer/artist wanted. They may have kept all 45 tracks and drowned the entire song in a wash of reverb. One task I avoided was vocal alignment since I was only practicing live skills.
By the time my fourth mix came along, I was ready for something completely different. I selected something out of my comfort zone and in another language. It was a strange mess of indie rock noise (I like some indie rock, but this wasn’t it). The guitars had level differences up to 11.3dB, background vocal mix was phasey, and all the drums bled into each other like crazy. To top it off, I had no idea what the lyric was about, so that couldn’t inform my decisions. Fortunately, it had a good kick drum sound to start with. Still, poor mic placements and an interesting space led to some very unusual EQ choices on my part to get it to sound passable. It was a good challenge.
Mix five gave me some great stuff to work with. I got to phase align the background vocals, mix down 18 guitar tracks (which was much more like mixing in post at the studio than in a live show), and apply wide-band filters to instrument busses.
At the end of my first five mixes, I was much more confident in the decisions I was making, and it didn’t take long to get that way. After each one, the instructor gave me feedback based on my final mixdown and my written notes on what I did and my thoughts. Personal feedback is especially important in an all-online course, since it can help to lessen the perceived distance between teacher and student.
If you’re looking for a fun time and some great practice, check out the site and get mixing!