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Smart Mixing Explained

On Monday we published a article introducing Bento’s new smart mixing pack to the Dj TT community. The smart mixer is a very powerful tool that can make basic mixing very smooth and super easy. The concept of smart mixing may be easy to grasp but the actual mechanics behind this technique are a bit more complex. Dj TechTools prides itself on teaching your the fundamentals of new concepts so here is the 2nd half of that article where we will go into the nuts and bolts of creating and modifying a smart mixer on your own.

Ableton’s see saw

To understand Smart-Mixing we must first look at the Ableton effects unit that makes all these mysterious on-the-fly changes. This effect unit is called the side-chain compressor and can be grouped with other compressors to form a smart-mixer group that works on several frequencies at once. The side-chain compressor can be configured to create a see saw effect.

Lets imagine for a moment that these see-saw’s are the two smart mixer racks. The people that you see on the See-Saw are the 2 decks you might be mixing together. On the left we have no smart mixing applied and on the right we have smart mixing applied which is balancing out the frequencies naturally.  Just as one person goes up the other person will go down we have a similar effect with the frequencies between each deck inside of Ableton Live. When one channels bass frequencies increase then we want the other track’s bass frequencies to be reduced just like on a see-saw.
Frequency splitter knob
Song A is made of of two people, the green person is song A’s high frequencies and the blue person is that song’s low frequencies. The frequency splitter knob can be visualized as the red dot. Right now the high and low frequencies are evenly distributed but you can adjust it so the low end takes up more or less of the frequency range, effectively moving the red dot to the right or left.

Smart Low\High Amount Knobs –

The smart-low and smart-high amount knobs control the amount of the see-saw effect that is applied to the mix.

The db level of the key input is constantly monitored by the side-chain compressor, this db value is then used to determine how much gain reduction is being applied to the audio input. The louder the key input the more the side-chain compressor will apply gain reduction to the audio input. This is very much like the see-saw effect that we were talking about above, when one side of the see-saw goes up the other is lowered. By controlling the ratio that the key-input reduces the audio input’s gain we are able to control the amount of  see-saw effect that is applied.  At the 0 position no gain reduction is occurring and as we turn up the knob the ratio of gain reduction is increased.

Low\High Band Select Buttons

If both people are trying to push up on the see saw their efforts will cancel one another out and nothing will move. This is where the band-select buttons come in and save the day.  These handy tools dictate if person deck A is going to push down deck B or if deck B is going to push down on deck A.

The band select button sends a midi message that turns off one of the side-chain compressors while turning the other side-chain compressor on at the same time.  A very useful side effect of this is that you can then use this button to select which bass-line is playing with the simple touch of a button – a task that would usually take you two hands on both of the low EQ knobs!

The Signal Path


*Simplified for easier understanding – Volume faders, crossfader not visible in diagram.

Taking it Further: Smart Cueing

Smart Cueing is a new idea built upon the Smart Mixing theory. It allows the user to monitor compression before it is applied to audio coming out of the master output. In our example there is one track playing on deck A and you’re getting ready bring the next track’s bass-line in on deck B so our crossfader is still all the way to the left –
  1. To prepare the smart mixing you first make sure that no tracks are being cued, now press both cue buttons at the same time and release them. The signal coming though your headphones should now be both channels playing at the same time.

  2. Now that you can hear both channels in your headphones you can start tweaking with the smart-mixing controls. Because we want Deck B to come in with its bass-line roaring we press the Low dominant frequency swap button so that  Deck B”s low frequencies reducing Deck A’s bass line.

  3. Turn up the low compression amount knob and more and more of the low frequencies will be removed from deck A. Because these settings dont effect the master audio, you can continue tweaking the settings and get your mix sounding good before its ready to go.

  4. Now when the time to mix comes and you start to blend the 2 decks with the cross fader the same compression you heard in the headphones will apply to the master mix. In this manner, one hand can litterally do the job that required at least 3 before.

** In order for smart cuing to work both faders need to be up.  The volume of each channel affects the amount of  compression required in the smart mixing process. After adjusting the settings you can reduce the faders but to smart cue requires the crossfader be set to the left or right.

FAQ:

Do i need the smart cue channels if i don’t want to cue ?
No, you can delete the channels labeled CueA and CueB if you do not wish to cue.
Where should the frequency knob be ?
The position of the frequency splitter knob depends on the frequency ranges of the bass material in the song that you are playing and your taste. Its not recommended to push this knob to either of its extremities, instead try finding a nice sounding balance around 11 o’clock on the knob. You can leave this unmapped if you have found a sweet spot that you like but i recommend finding the right balance from mix to mix.
How much should i turn the smart low and smart high amount knobs up ?
The smart knobs range from no smart compression at the 0 position where the signal is completely dry and colourless on that band of audio on both channels. At the 127 position a savage amount of compression will be applied resulting in a near full EQ kill.
What channels do i put my music in?
You can rather route your audio into channels Deck A and Deck B from an outside source like a pair of Cdj’s, Turntables, Deckadance VST, Traktor or whatever you like. Or if you want to launch use clips inside of Ableton you can just put your music inside of these same channels. Make sure not to put any clips into Channels SCA, CueA, SCB or CueB unless you wish to dive into dummy clips.
Do i need EQ’s?
You can rather choose to put EQ’s into channels Deck A and Deck B or alternatively you can EQ your material before hand but this is purely a personal preference. You wont be making as many EQ changes as you usually would while mixing using smart-mixing but they are handy to have as another sound sculpturing tool. Smart-Compression isn’t made to replace the EQing process but instead to compliment it as another tool in your belt.
Can i mix externally and still smart-mix?
I personally do not recommend mixing externally using the smart-mixer, however it is possible. If want to mix externally you will still need to use the internal gain, volume faders, cross-fader and cue buttons. Leave the volume faders all the way up and leave the cross-fader in the middle on the external mixer at all times. This way you can still use the EQ’s and analogue summing on your mixer while still utilising the features the smart-mixer has to offer. Its also important to cue from your sound card and not the mixer, so have your headphones plugged into your sound card and not the external mixer. The disadvantages of mixing externally using this approach is that you will not be able to monitor any of your mixers effects or EQ changes that you make on your mixer, also EQ changes that are made will not effect the smartmixing process like if an EQ was put pre-smartmixing.
Can i control this Ableton file with a mouse?
No, only a midi controller is capable of making the necessary changes to multiple channels inside Ableton at once. The main smart-mixing controls for instance are controlling 4 different effects racks at the same time which is impossible to do with a mouse.
Why cant i hear anything when i cue?
Try turning your channel fader up, if that doesnt work make sure you have everything mapped properly and if that doesnt work make sure you have your soundcard setup according to the Ableton manual.
Can i make the smart-cue channels go from post-fader to pre-fader?
Yes this is possible but isnt recomended as the smartmixing process requires volume levels in order to apply the correct amount of smartmixing to the tracks in the cue channel. Otherwise the cue channel sidechain compression will allways sound as if both volume faders are all the way up when this may not be the case at all. If you still wish to proceed then simply unmap the channel faders on channels CueA, CueB and leave both of the volume faders are the default position which is +0db of gain.
Where can i download the Albeton Live set file?
The file and instructions to mapping to your controller can be found in this article that we posted on Monday.
  • Paul0210

    Sounds very much to me like standard mixing of 2 tracks but simplified by using just one knob. I come from a DJ background to Ableton so am well aware of how to make room for an incoming track and how to maximise the impact of the incoming track, then again I have the Vestax VCM600 which allows me to manage eq`s in this way.

  • Doug

    Soo…does it mean I can’t use my external mixer at all when smart mixing?

  • Ben

    Hey man,

    Great stuff! genius. Basically makes a perfect mix with a couple knobs! Thanks!!!!

  • Skippy Le B

    Oh how I wish I’d discovered this site earlier. Been DJing with Ableton for years, and wanted a way to make certain mixes smoother. Nice work Bento San – I’ve just picked up an APC40 and had no problems attaching my set to your layout and mapping the MIDI controls.

    One question re FX: I’ve always tended to route my song tracks to intermediate FX tracks, where I can set up dummy clips to add time limited effects – e.g. a few bars gradual low cut and echo to build tension before a big bassline kicks in. How can I achieve this if I put FX devices in the main tracks A and B?

  • is there any possible to use this theory to a 4 channel mix set?
    I’m trying to make one but can’t get through…

  • electroplated

    Hi BentoSan

    Great work with this rack, one issue I’m having is that the knobs mapped from my midi controller (tried both my apc40 and trigger finger) is that the range on the mapped knobs is 0 – inf rather than 0-127 and the knobs jump around a lot even when moving them slowly… any ideas?

    Cheers 🙂

  • BentoSan

    [quote comment=”23624″]For fx, is it fine to just drop a rack or 3 on Deck A/B? still trying to get my head around this, as I’ve been mixing clean tracks with little fx (beatrepeat, pitch shifters etc.) doesn’t sound bad, just trying to figure out a good way to go with this. thank you[/quote]

    Yup that’s correct ! Fx go on deck a or deck b 🙂

  • ry

    For fx, is it fine to just drop a rack or 3 on Deck A/B? still trying to get my head around this, as I’ve been mixing clean tracks with little fx (beatrepeat, pitch shifters etc.) doesn’t sound bad, just trying to figure out a good way to go with this. thank you

  • Caitlyn

    Also, is there a way to, within Ableton, indicate which deck has the high and low ducking in effect? I was fiddling with it, and found I forgot too often.

  • Caitlyn

    This is pretty super.

    The main problem I am finding is that with hiphop and similar breakbeat genres, the bass sits in a wider frequency spectrum, such that the one-size-fits-both frequency splitting is not doing a good job.
    For example, track on deck A has a jazzy beat and requires the frequency splitter to be at 7 KHz for the beat to shine in the mix. But that cuts in to the vocals of deck A, and the frequency there needs to be 4 KHz.

    I am not sure of a good dynamic solution to this issue. Except to only spin tech-house.

  • chris

    Ok i figured it out now!

    ‘thanx

    /Chris

  • chris

    Hi BentoSan!

    Great work! There is something I can not figure out. In the map of the signal path above there are filters on every channel in the chain,when I open the file there are filters on all three of the channels accept on the SC A channel. Mayby it is supposed to be like this but I just wanted to ask you.

    Best

    /Chris

  • ryan

    Wow… i think i popped something. I’ll have to reread all that again but I think i just learned something immensely useful

  • forget paypal question…I donated!

  • Im having a hard time with cueing. I here both tracks in my headphones but its just a jubbled mess. I cant use the crossfader to adjust the compression in the mix when cueing so how do I adjust the compression while cueing? Do I use the volume faders on the sc and cue channels? If so if I am playing deck A out to the crowd and I want to cue up deck b and adjust how I am doing to mix this track what kknobs and faders of which track do I adjust? Assuming I am playing deck a out and want to cue up deck b exaclty what am I adjusting?

    also do I have to use paypal to donate? I cant just use a credit card?

  • BentoSan

    [quote comment=”20224″]When cueing the mix of decks a and b am I adjusting the high/low compression amount on both the cue and sc channels?[/quote]

    The low and high compression knobs are mapped to every instance of the rack on the 4 channels. So when you turn up the low compression knob it will turn up the low compression knob on channels SCA, CueA, SCB and CueB all at the same time in sycronisation with one another.

    The only difference between the SC channel and the Cue channel is that the Cue channels ignore the position of the crossfader.

    Its important that at all times the knobs are reading the same on all 4 of the channels – if they are not then something has gone wrong along the way and i recommend re reading the tutorial and comments.

    But yes when your cueing the main controls that you will be using is the 2 high and low compression knobs – you will also use 2 frequency switch buttons alot, though you will use the bass one alot more than the high end one.

  • justjabbin

    When cueing the mix of decks a and b am I adjusting the high/low compression amount on both the cue and sc channels?

  • jak

    Really great stuff,
    very intuitive and works incredibly well.
    Small donation on its way, I really hope you develop this a bit further (4 and 5 decks, maybe?)

  • @Will, send me your file to info at djtechtools dot com and i will take a look at your live file and see where the problem is coming from.

    I have done extensive testing of coloration using by using phase inversion techniques and there should not be any colouration of the sound with the settings as you say they are.

    A common mistake is for people to play with settings inside the racks which has caused issues for a couple users – my recommendation is to not touch anything inside the rack except for the macro knobs unless you know what your doing.

    Anyway, send it over and we will get to the bottom of this 🙂

  • Will

    @BentoSan

    Hey! I’ve noticed a small but annoying colouring effect when I turn Low on/off using this rack!

    The compressor, even when it’s not receiving sound from the sidechain is colouring the channel slightly. I can only hear this on the lo, although it’s possible it’s also happening on the hi.

    To hear this clearly, jam your crossfader to the left or right and toggle the lo smart filtering on or off: the sound will change noticeably as the compressor toggles.

    I’ve also found a solution to this: change “lookahead” on the Lo compressors from 1ms to 0ms, and the colouring vanishes.

    Why might this be? Is this an issue you’ve noticed? Has it already been fixed but I’ve misconfigured something?

    Either way: as long as there are no downsides to my solution I’m happy, but I think wiser heads than me should assess this.

  • BentoSan

    [quote comment=”19869″]@S4racen…could you post your updated version if it is ok with bentosan or explain exactly how you did it? i don’t play live so i don’t need cueing[/quote]

    IF you dont mix live then delete the 2 channels named CueA and CueB – if you want to send multiple channels into one side of the smartmixer then you need only create new channels, press the input/output routings button then route the extra channels you want rather into channels Deck A or Deck B.

  • k0

    @S4racen…could you post your updated version if it is ok with bentosan or explain exactly how you did it? i don’t play live so i don’t need cueing

  • I don’t think i need anymore than the two channels, i sum everything up into two sends and can choose to send each track to one or the other, each send then outputs to a group track which has about ten dummy clip channels, lucifer and a bunch of loopers…. then finally the best rack ever! Bentosan’s smartmixer has meant i can go crazy with everything without worrying that things are going to get out of control… Mad Props!

    Cheers
    D

  • Phaded

    Been using this with external control, and although there is a little more latency running multiple audio programs, it works great. Even have received comments on how great everything fits when I mix. Thanks Bento!

  • charo

    [quote comment=””][quote comment=””]That sounds really interesting – would love to try something like this in Traktor… any possibility of a Traktor Smart Mixing tutorial? :)[/quote]

    Sadly Traktor doesnt even come close to having this sort of functionality in the effects section.

    [quote comment=”19043″]Great Work

    A little Question:
    Is there an alternative to Albeton, too do smartmixing?[/quote]

    The only really viable alternative would be a program like Max Msp or Reaktor.[/quote]
    [quote comment=”19043″]Great Work

    A little Question:
    Is there an alternative to Albeton, too do smartmixing?[/quote]

    i believe it would be very possible to setup a smart mixer based on this idea in Audiomulch and Usine as well. In fact i have started one in audiomulch just to see if it can be done.

  • [quote comment=””]That sounds really interesting – would love to try something like this in Traktor… any possibility of a Traktor Smart Mixing tutorial? :)[/quote]

    Sadly Traktor doesnt even come close to having this sort of functionality in the effects section.

    [quote comment=”19043″]Great Work

    A little Question:
    Is there an alternative to Albeton, too do smartmixing?[/quote]

    The only really viable alternative would be a program like Max Msp or Reaktor.

  • MiL0

    That sounds really interesting – would love to try something like this in Traktor… any possibility of a Traktor Smart Mixing tutorial? 🙂

  • Damasta

    Hi
    I get error, when I try to set my AK1 in MIDI OX midi inputs settings.
    It looks like, Audio Kontrol 1 In: Undefined external error

    Anyone knows what might be the problem?
    Thanks

  • Great post (and the original) Bento.

    I’ve just got Live 8, so i’ll be up and running with this soon…

  • .p

    hey can u please tell me what’s a knob & how do i map it????

  • algorithmdetroit

    [quote comment=””]can you do a video post of this example?[/quote]

  • algorithmdetroit

    can you do a vied pos of this example?

  • jd62

    Impressive Bento Congrats cant wait to try it out.

  • digital.dude

    Great Work

    A little Question:
    Is there an alternative to Albeton, too do smartmixing?

    • killa

      does this really work? i am seeing alot of error comments ??