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Music

Creating a Studio Mix Using Ableton Live and Rapid Evolution

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Track Selection

For mixing I selected a folder of my own finished electronic music. You can download them at this Soundcloud account.

Analysis

I added the folder to Rapid Evolution, selected all tracks and then clicked on Detect > All. This will give us the Key and BPM as well. After the processing the software shows us he found four tracks which are compatible in the key of Cm also known as C-minor.

Project settings in Ableton
Basic settings for the project, 132 BPM and 4/4

The smallest BPM is 123.9 and the biggest is 140. Their average is about 132 so I set the project BPM to this value. This will even out the difference of the tempos and will sound better than using either the minimum or the maximum value. The time signature of the project and the songs is 4/4.

Rapid Evolution 3 main window
Main window after the music analysis
  1. Adam Firegate - Blue Shift, 123.9 BPM
  2. Adam Firegate - No More Jungle, 129.9 BPM
  3. Adam Firegate - Neuro Mantik, 132 BPM
  4. Adam Firegate - Back to Square One, 140.2 BPM

Warp Mode

I think for mixing sets, Complex Pro is usually the best option for choosing the Warp mode, so I set it for all music clips.

Beatmatching

For syncing the tracks I worked by ear and then check visually as well. I listened to the tracks and counted the downbeats and the upbeats. I worked in groups of 4, 8, 16 bars and 4 downbeat in each bars. For better understanding and more practice I recommend critical listening and learning basic music theory concentrating to the 4/4 common time signature as this is the most widely used one for electronic and dance musics.

Track Ordering Using Music Keys

I made a plan for track ordering based upon my taste, which was made up of three dance tracks and one chilled track for the outro. All of the tracks are using C-minor so there weren't any clashes in musicality and also the detecting algorithm was 100% correct.

Visual Guidelines

It can be helpful as a secondary thing to be able to align the beats with seeing the transients like bassdrums, snare drums, broken beat loops and sections. If you create mixes regularly in this way, you will get used to it quick.

The Rules of Harmonic Mixing

Be sure to learn some music theory to understand this, but for the practise, basically there are four options for harmonic mixing and staying in the safe zone:

  • same key, C-major with C-major
  • changing to relative major/minor key, C-major with A-minor
  • changing to previous key, C-major with F-major
  • changing to next key, C-major with G-major.
Circle of Fifths
Circle of Fifths image / Wikipedia / by user: Just plain Bill / CC BY-SA 3.0

So until you progress your mix within these simple rules, you are probably OK. But always let your ear be the final judge. You can learn more at the Wikipedia and Mixshare websites.

Musical Scale, Key and Track Progression

To keep the constant interest of the listener, we should change the key of the songs throughout the set. For this, we can use the Circle of fifths or the Camelot wheel

The first song can be G-major, the next can be D-major, then A-major, then C#-minor and so on. The number combinations can be endless.

Mixing and Mastering

The volume of the songs are about the same, so I didn't changed the loudness of the clips. Altough I set Audio 1 and Audio 2 to -1 dB because the metering showed peaking above 0 dB at some of the positions. 

For the Master channel I put a Limiter with 0 dB gain and -0.3 dB ceiling. This is the default setting and the result sounded good so I used it this way.

Ableton Limiter on the master channel
Using Ableton Limiter on the Master channel with default settings

Rendering the Session

For the master wav file I exported the set with these settings:

  • Master track
  • WAV file type
  • 44100 kHz
  • 24 bits
  • No dither

Alternatives

For a paid and very popular alternative of Rapid Evolution you can also use Mixed In Key.

Bonus Tips

In the settings, you can choose to detect the start/end key and advanced keys like Dorian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Phrygian as well. The speed/accuracy can also set between 10 to 100. Lower values will be faster but less usable. 

In the column selection you can check Key code which will give us the Camelot wheel notation. Its rules for mixing are written at the Camelot wheel pages but basically the same as at the Circle of fifths.

Rapid Evolution program settings window
Key detection settings for better results
Column selection for Rapid Evolution
Check the Key Code option for the Camelot Wheel notation

Final Mix

Listen to part 1 of the mix

This is part 2

Conclusion

That concludes the tutorial on making a musically valid and harmonic electronic dance mix. Ableton Live was used for checking, compiling, mixing and mastering and Rapid Evolution 3 was used for checking the musical key and BPM of the songs. 

After the song analysis and some planning, I made the decision of the order. Four tracks was mixed properly with beat and key matching. For more info about harmonic mixing please search for Circle of fifths, Camelot Wheel in Google. 

Finally, spend some time with learning basic music theory especially rhythm, pitch, scales and harmonies.

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