For years I've been searching for the most effective way to mix and master songs in Ableton. I kept wondering, "how do I make my tracks louder?" and "why doesn't this sound right?" After reading countless forums and watching tutorials on Youtube, I finally found the solutions I've been looking for. I'm going to spare you the hassle and tell you EXACTLY how to do it.
I'm going to break down the 3 main processes for how to mix and master your songs.
When you are ready to start mixing, you need to export stems. You will solo each track in Ableton. The most effective mix will have a stem for each individual instrument, including separate stems for drum tracks, i.e. Kick stem, snare stem, etc. I usually create a folder with the song name and the word stems. (You might what to store these separately from where your Ableton project file is, that way, if you happen to lose a project file, you still have the stems saved.) Now, here is the #1 tip that took me awhile to figure out: You want to export your stems as 44100k, 32 bit, NO dither, and DO NOT NORMALIZE.
When you've got all your stems exported, you want to create a new Ableton project. You want to label each Audio track, i.e. KICK, SNARE, LEAD, KEYS, etc. and drop in each stem from your folder accordingly. On each track you want an EQ. I use Izotope's Neutron 2, which is great and definitely worth the purchase. With Neutron there are a lot of great presets and you can also save your presets, so that if you get that perfect EQ for your instrument, you have it saved for the next song. If you don't have the $ for Neutron or another Pro EQ plugin, you can use the stock Ableton EQ 8.
Mixing takes awhile to figure out, but you will get better and faster at it with time. The goal is to have each instrument sitting in the mix just right so that you can hear everything, but also have congruent dynamics that bring all the instruments together in the song. You can also try panning different instruments to create more depth in the mix. I also use a reverb on a send channel and put a touch on each instrument to create congruency and make it sound like it's all in the same space. There are a lot of great free tutorials on mixing out there and guidelines for EQ frequencies for different instruments. You want to listen to your song at different volume levels and with headphones and monitors. Can you hear everything in the mix? Is the bass too loud?
You want the peaks of your mix to sit at -6 DB. When you are happy with your mix, you want to export the entire song as 44100k, 32 bit, NO dither, and DO NOT NORMALIZE. I would recommend creating a folder called Mixes and then another folder inside that with the song name and date of the mix. (You might want to create different mixes).
When you are ready for mastering, you want to create another Ableton project and through in the mix into an audio track. For mastering, I set up a chain on the MASTER track. First I put on Ableton's stock Saturator and put the gain up to 1 or 2 depending on how much you want to push the song. The saturator creates a more deep, analog sound and amps the volume. Next on the chain, I use Izotope's Ozone. It is a handy plugin that has a lot of great presets with compressors, vintage limiters, and full spectrum stereo visualization. If you don't have the $ for Ozone, I would suggest finding a Youtube tutorial on creating a mastering chain in Ableton. You definitely want slight compression (don't compress too much!) and a limiter.
You want to compare your volume levels with already mastered songs, open up Spotify and find a song that is a similar style or genre and compare your track side by side.
When you are happy with your track, you want to export the finished song as 44100k, 16 or 24 bit, Dither at POWr1 for soft / acoustic songs, and POWr2 for pop songs, POWr3 for hiphop for EDM tracks, and DO NOT NORMALIZE. If your limiter is set correctly then you should not need to Normalize.
WOW! It took me years to figure this out because I've never had any training or guidance for these simple guidelines. I hope this helps and happy music making!