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Tip Of The Day - #3

Discussion in 'Recording' started by hargerst, Feb 23, 2001.

  1. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2001
    The Dreaded Mixdown

    This is where many new recordists fall down. It's one of the hardest things to get right, but there are a few things you can do to help get your mixes closer to where they should be, right from the start. (MixerMan, who gets paid big bucks to do this, will hopefully jump into this thread at some point.) It requires a different mindset from tracking and arranging. It also requires that you not be married or in love with any one part in the song.

    Tip 1. Get as far away from the song as possible before you try mixing it. Don't try to do a mix right after a tracking session. Your ears are fried, and you're too close to the song right now. Objectivity is the word to remember. Wait a few days or even a week or more, if you have that luxury. Yes, some people can do a good mix right away, but that usually takes years to acquire that skill. If you haven't been doing mixes for many years, you ain't one of those people, so wait.

    Tip 2. Mix low. Yes, cranking it sounds cool, but it will also introduce more room reflections and give you a warped picture of the sound. Crank it when you think you've got the mix nailed, but keep it low for as long as possible.

    Tip 3. Listen to the song, not the tracks. The biggest mistake new mixers make is soloing each track and making it sound full and rich by itself, then they wonder why the whole thing sounds bloated and muddy. There are several methods that work to construct a good mix. You can start by bringing all the faders up, with the pan pots centered, and all effects turned off, or you can decide what the key element in the song is (the vocal, for example), and start working from that. Different engineers use different methods.

    Tip 4. Build a box - a small stage in your mind. Imagine a stage. You control where the player appears on that stage. Panning lets you control left to right placement, volume and reverb lets you control front to back, and eq lets you control the frequency blend (low to high).

    Tip 5. Resolving conflicts in the mix is the single biggest problem facing a mixer. You'll always find several tracks competing for attention in the same frequency range. The kick competes with the bass. The bass competes with the low guitars. The guitars may be competing with the vocals. The keyboards are all over the place. It becomes an even bigger problem for most people when they solo a track and work to make that instrument sound as big as possible. Bad move. All the instruments hafta work together and a particular instrument has to sound good with ALL the other instruments.

    For the good of the song, some of the bottom end on the bass or the guitars may have to be eliminated. Yes, the instrument may not sound good when it's soloed, but it will blend in better when you listen to all the tracks. It's up to you to decide which instruments need to be shaved, but if you concentrate on the song first, it will start to become more and more obvious what needs fixing.

    Tip 6. Take frequent breaks and get away from the music for a few minutes. Rest your ears. If you're doing it right, it's the most demanding part of the whole recording process. You are literally listening to ALL the instruments at the same time, following them all at once, and it's easy to burn out. Wanna see an engineer really blow up? Try talking to other people in the control room while he's trying to work on a final mix.

    There's a lot more, but we'll save it for another day, or wait to let others weigh in on this most difficult of all subjects.
     
  2. Coerce

    Coerce Guest

    Great tips as usual Harvey. One other thing that I find quite helpful is to make sure to check my mixes on several sets of speakers before calling it quits. This is especially important when the mix position is in less than an ideal environment or if you are not quite comfortable on how your mix speakers translate. What may sound good on your system may blow the speakers right out of your friends little boom boxes later. :eek:
     
  3. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2001
    Absolutely, Kevin. Getting the bottom end right is one of the hardest thing in a mix. Getting the vocals to sit right is another.

    Geez, come to think of it, getting everything to sit right is a bitch. Someone could easily fill a book and sell it, called "The Fine Art Of Mixing". I'd buy the damn thing at almost any price.
     
  4. Mixer-man

    Mixer-man Guest

    Ahhhh.. my favorite subject. I could speak for hours and hours on mixing. Harvey's tips are great. Defenitely valuable to the beginning mixer.

    What can I add? Well let's start with the fundamentals of what you're working with. It's allot to digest, particularly with Harvey's list, and it should probably have it's own header, but I'll put it here anyway.

    Barring 5.1, you only have 2 speakers to work with. But we live in a 3 dimensional world. So we're basically creating an illusion so that a mix sounds 3 dimensional. Let's call this a spatial illusion

    When mixing there are 5 planes of spatial illusion. Level, panning, frequency, spatial perception, and contrast. These five planes are all used to create space in a mix.

    Front to back: (Level)
    Level gives an element of a mix it's own space. Compression on individual
    channels helps keep the level so that it doesn't disappear in the mix. A
    loud instrument will appear forward, or towards the front. A quiet
    instrument will appear to be back or further away.

    Left to right: (Panning)
    Panning allows you to give an element of the mix it's own space. For instance putting a guitar part hard right keeps it from washing out the vocal.

    Up and down: (Frequency)
    Frequency is the use of EQ to boost or cut frequencies that either muddy or clear the mix up. For instance 250Hz-700Hz are fairly muddy frequencies, and if you have too many instruments using this frequency range the mix could be muddy. Everything in an arrangement or mix should have it's own
    unique fundamental frequency space.

    Far and near: (Spatial Perception)
    Spatial perception is the use of reverbs, chambers, plates, delays, far mic placement, etc.. to create the illusion of space in the mix. An instrument with allot of reverb can sound like it is placed in a large hall. An instrument or a vocal with a long delay, can sound like it's in the alps. An instrument that's completely dry, will sound like it's in a small carpeted room, right next to you.

    Sparse to dense: (Contrast)
    Arrangement is the use of muting, and altering the recorded arrangement to
    create space where it is needed to accent the more dense parts. The use of density to contrast sparse is great for creating the illusion of dynamics in a mix, within minimal dynamic range. The use of a limited dynamic range makes for better listening in more casual environments, where there tends to be external noise.

    All 5 of these planes work together to create the illusion of space in a
    mix. One is no more important than any other in general, although one or two of the planes could prove to be more useful in a given mix. Not all are a requirement for a great mix either. For example, your mix should to be able to break down to mono, and still be a greqat mix.

    I could speak in great detail on each of these planes. I could take them one at a time each week if anyone's interested.

    I'll save Mixerman's 10 Steps to Better Mixing for another day.

    Mixerman
     
  5. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2001
    Damn, no wonder you get the big bucks!! :)
     
  6. lwilliam

    lwilliam Active Member

    Joined:
    Oct 6, 2000
    Location:
    Santa Clarita, CA USA
    Home Page:
    Wow, great tips Harv and Mixerman. Maybe you guys should co-author "The Sound Mixer's Bible". I'll buy it!

    My measly $.02 would be...in addition to using at least a couple of sets of monitors, I also listen to two sets of headphones. I've also used (I think it was Craig Anderton who mentioned this somewhere) the technique of listening to your mix in another room. That's the dead giveaway for the relative vocal level.

    ze planes...ze planes - whatta concept!
     
  7. hargerst

    hargerst Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2001
    Good idea, Larry, but don't try to do track levels or reverbs using headphones; that just doesn't translate to the real world.

    The open door trick is great for listening to the mono sound and seeing if your balances work. Yeah, it's stereo in the room, but once you're outside the room, listening thru the open door, it's mono.

    I could edit the book, but MixerMan would be the guy to write it.
     
  8. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff Resource Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2000
    Location:
    Prince George, BC
    Home Page:
    man you guys are awesome! This is such a good forum.

    Thanks for being here! :D
     
  9. realdynamix

    realdynamix Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2001
    Thanks for the most straight forward tip's, and enlightening follow up's, on mixing. Mr.Gerst, your tip's are terrific, looking forward to more.

    --Rick
     
  10. reap

    reap Guest

    Great advice guys. The up/down plane holds true particularly when using a sub woofer, literally! I've found that using time align monitors like urei 809's or tannoys helps w/less than ideal monitoring environments (I.E. standing waves and such). What do you think?

    Dan
     
  11. Traumakind

    Traumakind Guest

    Hi!
    I just stumbled and across this forum and I have to say it should have been up much much longer, probably 4 years earlier. I would not have had to learn all the mixing skills by myself. But then again, maybe not. Loved that part about the illusion of space, which is something I like to refer to as landscape painting. (you know, drawing violins across the sky, dropping huge mountains of guitars, letting the earth rumble with bass and attaching phaser to birds flying around your head ) ;)
    Well, got carried away there.
    C U and thanx,
    Stefan
    Cheers,
    Stefan
     
  12. dkrausz

    dkrausz Guest

    All I can say is WOW...

    ..the new guy

    Dan-
     
  13. dimlight

    dimlight Guest

    Elegant way of condensing the how to of a mix.

    I've heard the "how do you mix?" question several times, and my way of explaining these terms is usually very lame in comparison to your beautifull 6 steps, I was wondering if I can keep a hard copy of these in the studio for when the question is asked again?

    The 7th step I would add, and that is a distant add-on to Mixerman's brilliant spatial perception note, is: Know your reverbs
    Cheat a believable space with them. Put everybody in the band in the same room, but with different reverbs and programs (plates, chambers, halls, etc... at the same time)
    Try as many different reverbs as you can, and have time for.
    Learn what reverb works with what. (and then change it) :D

    My almost rule of thumb is: The crappiest reverb in the world will make that hard-to-get-in-the-mix-instrument behave and do what you want it to do.

    All these rules are if the song requires it of course.
    And the only thing you can never forget is that you are mixing music, and that is the most important thing, the music. If It tells you louder, go louder, if it tells you no reverb, go in that direction. The point is you are helping it, and doing anything you can to make it sound great.
    (The main point of Mixing and life to me are, to get it to sound the best you can, with what you've got in the time you've got to do it)

    The answer to the spiritual "how is it supposed to sound?" question is: The song will tell you how it wants to sound.

    ....or something like that :roll:

    Dim
     
  14. smokinjokin

    smokinjokin Guest

    Hey all - great tips on mixing here. It really is a medative state we go into, isn't it? I give bands 2 hours extra for free on mixing days just so I've got the time to walk away from it every half hour or so, and just stand outside for a minute or two and re-picture that "stage in my head".

    Quick question - I see a lot of recommendations for judicious use of reverb during mixing. I cannot seem to find reverbs I like in my mixes - not to put on everything like suggested above. I have an Alesis Midiverb 3 & 4, a Nanoverb and a Yamha FX500, plus several "high-end" plug in Reverbs such as TC and Waves. I never like the sound of reverb on distorted guitar. Bass definitely does not sound good through a verb to my ears. The only things I seem to like verb on is a small room sound on drums, a plate on vocals and maybe a hall on solo guitars and hand percussion - but I can't find a place for any others. I will admit a lot of my mixes sound rather "dry" - how do you tweak verbs for instruments that you don't really want to "hear" verb on? What size verbs do you usually use?

    Adam B
    Smokin & Jokin Recording Studio - Sydney Australia
    Smokin & Jokin web page
     
  15. Tymish

    Tymish Guest

    Originally posted by Adam B - Smokin & Jokin:
    [QB] ....I cannot seem to find reverbs I like in my mixes.... Adam B
    QB]

    (When I use reverb)
    Generally I use the smaller rooms and or plates for snare. A touch at times for vocals, different settings. As far as guitars if I do use reverb it's hardly enough to notice, you don't really hear the tails. It's more a hair of ambience to glue the guitars to the rest of the mix. Sometimes I record the guitars with the reverb on the amp, there's something about a touch of that spring reverb in the tube amp that often works just fine alone. Play around with very subtle use of verb.
     
  16. Jon Best

    Jon Best Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 18, 2001
    I think what you're describing _is_ judicious use of reverb- not putting it on everything. I don't find a lot of circumstances where I feel like there needs to be an overall reverb in pop/rock stuff. I've actually been more inclined recently to use a handful of different delays. Similar 'space' effect, with less clutter. It also gives me more freedom to use one or two reverbs more fully on one or two things without creating so much mush.

    And please don't take this the wrong way- with the possible exception of the Yamaha (which I don't know), I am not sure you _have_ a really good reverb to try out. I'd put even a Lexicon MPX100 above anything I've heard in a DAW, although I have not heard everything.

    Originally posted by Adam B - Smokin & Jokin:

    Quick question - I see a lot of recommendations for judicious use of reverb during mixing. I cannot seem to find reverbs I like in my mixes - not to put on everything like suggested above. I have an Alesis Midiverb 3 & 4, a Nanoverb and a Yamha FX500, plus several "high-end" plug in Reverbs such as TC and Waves. I never like the sound of reverb on distorted guitar. Bass definitely does not sound good through a verb to my ears. The only things I seem to like verb on is a small room sound on drums, a plate on vocals and maybe a hall on solo guitars and hand percussion - but I can't find a place for any others. I will admit a lot of my mixes sound rather "dry" - how do you tweak verbs for instruments that you don't really want to "hear" verb on? What size verbs do you usually use?

    Adam B
    Smokin & Jokin Recording Studio - Sydney Australia
    Smokin & Jokin web page
     
  17. I never like the sound of reverb on distorted guitar. Bass definitely does not sound good through a verb to my ears. The only things I seem to like verb on is a small room sound on drums, a plate on vocals and maybe a hall on solo guitars and hand percussion - but I can't find a place for any others. I will admit a lot of my mixes sound rather "dry" - how do you tweak verbs for instruments that you don't really want to "hear" verb on? What size verbs do you usually use?

    Your ears serve you well young jedi ;-)

    If you're in doubt on reverb usage, the best advice is to listen to the usage of reverb on albums you like in the same or similar genre.

    You will almost never hear reverb on kick or bass. When you do hear it on dist guitar, it will be very minimal. You will hear a hall reverb used on a kick at times as a special effect. (A really cool effect for an open part of a song with minimal kick- ie a breakdown at about 80-100 BPM)

    If your recordings sound dry, it may have something to do with the way the reverb sits in the mix. Try returning your verbs to channel inputs, instead of aux returns so you can eq them properly.

    PS. If you charge clients to record, don't admit to using a Nanoverb in a public forum ;-)

    Best of luck in your quest for ambience,

    Brad Gallagher Link removed
     
  18. james henke

    james henke Guest

    it's occured to me that multiband compression might be a good way or another way that hasnt been mentioned for creating layers or planes of space in the mix. Is this a common practice? Thats getting a little out there beyond beginers mixing but i'd like to know what your paid for pros think?
     
  19. james henke

    james henke Guest

    Oh, another thought has occured (notify the press). Anyway I was thinking also that when your recording a live band all the frequencies blend together and some cancel each other out and others become emphasized by the harmonic interactions. Is that correct? So when you have tracks of all clean material without interaction with other instruments and you go to mix, do you strive to recreate the interaction, or as has been stated you cut material out to make room in the mix for each individual? i guess id liek to know why when mixing you cant try to get a live feel - or why when you play 2 tracks together it doesnt interact like the live players sounds do? or do they? LOL
     
  20. In my experience, multiband compression is generally used for mastering. A TC Finalizer is an expensive piece of equipment (as are similar units). I think it would be cost prohibitive to strap 24 or so of these to your inserts when mixing. This is not so much of an issue in the digital domain, (except for system resources), but I think it would still be prohibitively time consuming, compared to other methods (eq, reverb, panning) that can generally get the job done. I think multiband would be left solely to the domain of “problem children” in the mix if used at all.

    I am very young compared to most of the other guys on this board, so you should probably get their 2 cents also. What do you think Harvey?

    Now for your second question… WOW! Why don’t you just ask how the universe works, or why we’re here… those would be simpler questions to answer ;-)

    Really that deals with room acoustics, five or six good physics, a whole bunch of philosophy, and a shitload of personal taste. Why ask why… drink bud dry. If it sounds good to you you’re getting there. If it sounds good to four out of five people (who like that type of music), pat yourself on the back… and stop askin’ so many damn questions
    :)

    Brad Gallagher http://www.just-for-musicians.com/
     

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