There is no such thing as balance in mixing.

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by JoaoSpin, Jul 22, 2016.

  1. JoaoSpin

    JoaoSpin Active Member

    Hi guys and gals,
    Here's a mental process I came across today in mixing. I was working on a couple of songs for days on end trying to balance everything out. I worked on the mixes, rendered, worked again, always something missing. And then it dawned on me: "I'm trying to balance these songs, but what is balance anyway? What balance am I looking for?" that's when I started asking the right questions like "what is the right balance for this song?" in a few clever moves I got the mixes where I wanted them. Though they were by the same artist and with similar arrangements, they seemed to 'ask' for different things. I had spent days doing everything by default, thinking that balance was about having everything in the same relative level, with a carved out frequency range. Well, the conclusion I came to is, beyond all the little things that most mixers do, there is no such thing as balance in mixing. You have to have a clear view of what the song is about and how each instrument will sit preferably before your even start pulling up the faders... otherwise (don't know who said this first) we wouldn't be spending 95% of our time doing 5% of the work. Thoughts?
  2. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    IMO Its subjective to how you define balance. Its also subjective to what the song requires as each song is unique in a sense and the approach to how you mix it will be unique.
    Its important to have a sense of what is driving the song, whether its a guitar track, a solid bassline or drum sound that propels the track, a power lead vocal, whatever it may be, then everything else has to be in proportion to that.

    Say you have a track that has a soft piano melody that is integral to the mood of the song, common sense prevails that you wouldn't overpower it with a heavy bass track thats sitting right up front in the mix. There has to be some kind of balance to capture the escence of that mood and the expression you are trying to create on the listener.
    But that balance also has to be fluid...allowing it to ebb and flow as the track evolves, such as when solos come into play, or when a chorus breaks out, and how that can be manipulated for maximum impact on the listener in a psycho-acoustic sense through volume automation.

    So how you define balance in a mix has more to do than L & R balance, M & S balance, what is panned where and whats sitting where in the stereo field and that definition can be interpreted differently from one person to the anything, its what works best for you.

    IMHO of course.
  3. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Balance in a mix isn't a literal thing, it's a matter of taste.
    Sean G likes this.
  4. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    If there is no such thing as balance in mixing there would be no need for faders
    Makzimia likes this.
  5. Makzimia

    Makzimia Active Member

    Mixing = balance..
    Sean G likes this.
  6. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    Doing things by default just kills creativity. Of course you can make everything to the same level but a great mix is more than that.

    A great mix will have determined what is catchy about a song and it'll make it shine. Yes, you should be able to hear everything but our brain can't focus on more than 2 or 3 things. So what apear evident in a mix should be those important items that will make the listener engage in the song from the start to the end.

    I worked with Nanette Workman many years ago. She said something very interesting while working the arrangement. You see I did the drum on her demo and went with my own inspiration. She liked what I did but ask that I keep the beat running through the song without any stops. When asked, she said that having the drum stop is cute but it breaks the kind of hypnosis the song induce and create the special mood she's looking for.

    Why would I tell that story ? The mixing also serve to set the a mood of a song. Having the band/artist vision about the song is very important before we start mixing.
    Sometime it's evident and you can feel it while recording. But there is times that knowing what the artist is aiming for may change a lot of things regarding how the recording and mixing of a song will be done...
    Keith Johnson likes this.
  7. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I agree, the song dictates who / what is going to be the 'star' of the mix. Sometimes it's the vocal, sometimes it's the bass, drums, keys, guitar, sometimes it's the________.
    Sean G likes this.
  8. Brother Junk

    Brother Junk Active Member

    Oi João,

    I person I respect once taught me (and it was mentioned in this thread) that we can only concentrate on 2,3, depending on the frequencies, maybe 4 things at a time. So only a few things should be getting the main attention during different parts of the song. The rest, the ear hears, but almost like a backing track.

    Maybe it's better with a generic example. Imagine a song that has a 4 bar section with 3 part harmonies in it. All the other music is there too, bass line, drums, guitar (whatever).

    Some people try to take those parts, and mess with frequencies (which is a good idea sometimes) so that you can hear everything. The figure, "I have 20hz-20khz of space to fill, so I'm going to fill it." So they try to populate that spectrum as thoroughly as they can, so that everything can be heard.

    It often makes a song hard to feel and follow. It can be like 10 people talking in a room at equal volumes. Can you tell what 3 of them are trying to say? It would be hard. Now take 7 of those people, and move them back 10 feet. You would much better be able to make out the three standing directly in front of you. The analogy is not a great one, but I think the idea comes across.

    It often sounds better, if you took that 4 bar section with the 3 part harmonies, and instead of trying to fill the space, drop everything but the drums and harmonies, and you realize that much of the time, the drums and those harmonies are more than enough to carry those 4 bars. In fact, it sounds better with the added space. And if you like, you can now feature something small and different in those bars that won't be in the rest of the song. Space gives your instrumentation weight.

    Because of the way our ears work, the more of that frequency spectrum you take up at one time, the less weight each instrument can carry. Does that make sense? (I know what I mean, not sure if I'm explaining it well lol)

    So "balance," can mean a couple different things. But for a song to have a particular "feel," it's about (imo) choosing what 3 things to feature, and how much weight they will carry. If/When one of those drops out, what will pick up that "weight?" Then you plan your fills/transitions to make that happen.

    But if by your original post you mean approach it as though you should be able to hear everything, almost like it's featured... that is tremendously difficult to do. I do hear them occasionally (songs that are super "busy" but still cohesive) but I can't think of any off the top of my head.

    I'm a nobody, so take it for what it's worth, but I approach it with the idea that the space is what gives my instrumentation/vocals power. That's what I try to keep in balance when mixing.

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