Where to Start: Mixing 101's.

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by Haamilton, Nov 16, 2012.

  1. Haamilton

    Haamilton Active Member

    Hey ya'll, so i've been recording music for the last 7 years; and i'm still frustrated trying to get that mix to sound "professional"; i honestly dont know what i'm suppose to be looking for when mixing down certain pieces of a song, i just figure whatever sounds "good". :||||

    so, here's the question:
    how do you know what sounds good?

    woah right?
  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Every time before I begin a mix, I calibrated my hearing, even in my own control room, with a series of CDs that I have used throughout the years as a reference. And I generally pick recordings that were produced on similar equipment to what I may be using. It helps that I also know where or what and how many of these recordings were made and by whom. So, if I was asked to mix at a studio that had an SSL board, I'd likely bring along some Sting, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds since I know those were cut and mix on SSL consoles. Given an API or a Neve, I bring some classic hits recorded on those consoles. This gives me a baseline to start with. Of course these were all mastered by some great mastering engineers. So I can't necessarily expect same volume levels, density, etc.. Then, I can create my acoustic signature. And then I know that when it's mastered, it will be just all the better. Sometimes my mixes only require normalization as the only final step, necessary. It's great when you can make your mix sound exactly like you have it in your head. Which then doesn't give Mastering Engineers much to do or to work with. Which is actually the way it should be. Today most recordist need their big daddy Mastering Engineer to make little Tommy's recording sound professional. Remember that Mastering was really nothing more back in the day than a transfer process. Today it's that magical guy that can correct for your crappy home recordings and make them sound almost like professional recordings.

    It's all in your technique
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  3. cporro

    cporro Active Member

    over the years here are the things that helped me most.

    1) as remy said use a reference. and use a good one where the mix is done well and it's the same genre as whatever you are mixing. don't try and make your mix sound the same...like same bass, same hi-hat. but use it was a guide for frequency balance and dynamics.

    2) walk away. this is hard to do. but if you walk away and return after say 20 minutes you'll be surprised at how apparent your mistakes are when you return.

    3) mix quiet. mixing loud will wear out your ears fast and if you have a lousy room it will make it sound worse.

    4) use decent headphones (like akg 240s...not consumer stuff.). i know some people think this is a no no. but it's better imo then mixing in a bad room with bad speakers.

    5) limit your tools. most mixing comes down to eq and compression imo. try and mix something with just those tools and automating levels (or changing volume curves in your daw.)

    6) use eq subtractively. try thinking in terms of what needs to be removed instead of what needs to be added. most mixes (especially home recordings) need frequencies removed. when you remove them other things that were masked will start being heard.

    i can't over state how fast ears will adjust to any environment. after about 30 seconds that AM radio 6db boost at 1k will sound natural. that's why you need to reference a lot and walk away often. sleeping on it will bring you back with a new perspective.
  4. thatjeffguy

    thatjeffguy Active Member

    MIXING MAGIC: Guiding principles for achieving great recording mixes
    Article I wrote in 2010 for Victory Music Magazine on Mixing Basics.

  5. e-mixmaster

    e-mixmaster Active Member

    When some thing sounds good you just know it. The hard thing is to get there. LOL

    By the way, all prior replies all are good advices! ... and

    1. Don't compress too much, instead use good equalizing, and hide all the unnecessary frequencies.

    2. Let work to be done for the mastering process.

    3. Mind psychoacoustics.

    mixing and mastering
  6. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    A few thoughts...

    Listen carefully to other professional recordings similar in style to what you are working on. Listen for things you like, listen for sonic similarities - or differences - to what you are doing.

    Stay away from adding limiters to individual tracks.

    Be conscious of gain reduction settings, don't go overboard on compression.

    As mentioned, and when possible, use subtractive EQ.

    As opposed to reaching for the fadersto bring certain parts up or down, look to panning first. Sometimes, moving the part around in the stereo field, even just a little bit, can bring it out to your liking.

    Be careful of how much reverb you use. Unless you are using it as a grand effect for a particular section, a little goes a long way. Too much can wipe out definition and punch.

    Walk away, and do it often if you can.

    What monitors are you mixing through, and at what levels? Industry standard NF's like the obligatory Yamaha NS-10's can fatigue your upper mid range pretty fast; and while you should certainly check your mixes at various levels, mixing at lower levels will allow you to hear more detail, and, to mix for longer periods of time.

    Check your mixes on several different playback mediums; car stereo, boombox, ipod, TV speakers, PC speakers, etc.

    If you find that certain frequencies are substantially and consistently shy or hot on these other mediums and in other environments, it's likely that your mixing environment needs some treatment.

    Allow enough headroom and dynamic range for a mastering engineer to work with.

    Don't get discouraged. It takes time to become good at what we do. ;)
  7. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Nice bunch of pragmatic suggestions there. Even though there are those of us that have very different ways of working. It's a good get goer, For sure.

    I teach audio 666
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  8. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    It's a tough question to answer, because there are soooo many parameters involved.

    There is most certainly a difference between home studios and the big rooms - where in many cases they have more money tied up in a few nice compressors and pre amps than most home studios do in their entire recording rigs; but, that being said, I've heard some pretty lousy mixes come off of SSL's and Neves from time to time, and I've heard some four and eight track stuff done in someone's basement that knocked my socks off.

    So, while having that boutique gear can be nice, most of our problems can be solved with more knowledge - as opposed to more gear. ;)
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    And Donny has that absolutely right. Of course that only pertains to a certain demographic. Rich people can have whatever they want. The pragmatic home project studio owner needs to be a little more resourceful. So just hone your skills for that day when ya become famous. The bus stops here so you might as well get on?

    Do I like the sound of low cost entry level equipment? Not particularly but I still find it perfectly fine to use. So if ya look at things that way? Even compromise equipment won't keep you from making a good recording. Will it keep you from making any state-of-the-art recording that only financially well-off people can afford, not as good a product delivery? Well maybe but what are people paying you to do this? Right.

    No job pays decently these days...
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  10. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    I think with the advent of new, cheap digital recording gear, everyone expects to be able to create a national release quality recording.

    Those of us who started on cassette recorders and graduated up to reel to reel with limited tracks had to learn how to place everything in it's place. Now, with inexpensive software, everything can be louder than everything else and stacks and stacks of sonic elements are common.

    Finding the "sonic space" of each element in a mix is hard. It requires good ears, accurate playback equipment and adequate recording equipment. EQ, compression, effects, panning and level all contribute to finding where an element belongs. There are no simple answers.

    Sometimes the answer is to follow the advice of Les Ismore. He can work wonders.
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Considering that most "civilians" are listening to songs these days in a highly compressed format through $8 earbuds, I'm not sure it matters as much anymore. LOL


  12. bishopdante

    bishopdante Guest

    When dealing with a lossy process, you need more quality going in. 1/4 of 1/4 is 1/16th, quality issues are cumulative, problems cause further problems. If your recording process is ganked, and then your playback device is also ganked, you'll not have much quality left. If you've got a well-balanced noise-free master, and the playback device adds a bunch of distortion and restricted frequency response, it'll sound rough, but the distortion won't be distortion of noise and mush, it'll be harmonic. If you take a noisy, distorted, badly balanced signal and then apply distortion, the sound will break up horribly, and quickly.
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I understand, Bishop. I was venting. ;)
  14. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Donny... you're venting? All of my 4310/4311/4312/4411 are already vented. What the heck are you doing to your speakers anyhow?...???... Oh... venting, right. Well... SCREW VENTING! I'm tired of everybody venting! Just wind the window back up because it's winter! And then ya only have your equipment and other morons to complain about. LOL. So get back to work and give us a more great music. All of these freaky musicians are a bunch of slackers! When are they ever going to learn?

    Donny how's that? LMAO.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  15. ClarkJaman

    ClarkJaman Active Member

    I just have to say this is a very helpful thread. You guys have answered questions I didn't even know I had. :)
  16. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    So what did we win? Cash? Prizes? Some holiday cheer? Oh the humanity...

    I guess you guys are on Santa's first stop being so close to the pole? And does Santa really care if we make our mixes sound rather naughty and nice?

    OMG! How the heck is he going to get into that 17 inch skylight in my RV?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    My advice to entry level recording enthusiasts, or for those considering it as a career, is to start out by really understanding the tools that are most commonly used, as opposed to just throwing random processing at random amounts on the tracks... like opening a compressor plug and randomly selecting parameters like ratios, thresh, attack and release times, etc., you must first understand what these tools were designed to do.

    For example....far too many beginners make the assumption that unless they can hear a compressor working, that it's not doing what it's supposed to do, when in fact, the majority of the time - not counting those times when over compression is used as an effect - compressors aren't really made to be heard - at least not in the way you would expect if you were using effects like reverb, delay, chorus, etc. on a track for an effect... and just because you can't hear a substantial audible difference doesn't mean that it isn't doing exactly what it was designed to do.

    EQ is another tool that is vastly misunderstood by the majority of new users. Many feel that simply putting the old "disco smile curve" on a graphic is going to be what the tracks or master 2-bus calls for.

    So, that's probably my biggest piece of advice to those who are new to this craft - recording 101 - and that is to truly understand exactly what it is you are doing to the audio - before you do it.

    The second piece of advice I would offer would be to use your ears to mix, and not your eyes. You should no more use your eyes to mix than use your sense of smell to hear.

    Stop analyzing the wave form... and listen.

    In my humble opinion, of course.

  18. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Ditto Donny again. I just love all of the time you're saving me Donny. I can repeat myself last as I've repeated my result many times do the seven years + I've been here.

    While pretty much everything we're saying here are available in Stickies, we just happen to be working the drive-through window tonight LOL. We're just throwing out half-full coffee cups, emptying the ashtrays and winding up the microphone cables, putting away the microphones, and don't forget the normal the console up. Then it's Miller time. And when you can light up anything you want in the smoke-free control room. LOL. And that's why having a good quiet HVAC system is so important. Just so everybody knows it's a smoke-free control room at 9 AM. And three hours should do the job.

    Is it soup yet?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  19. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Ahh yes, I too remember those days quite well...the end-of-session ritual of "zero-ing out" (also referred to as "nulling", "flattening out", "normalling" the console where you reset every single knob, potentiometer, switch, button fader so that the engineer walking into the next session wasn't starting their mix out using your ridiculous settings... LOL), but before you do...

    Don't forget to grab those mixing templates from the drawer underneath the producer's desk by the patch bay and notate by hand every single parameter on those 24 channels (48 if your console wasn't an in-line) !!

    You think I jest? Oh my no, youngsters...those templates were actual paper hard copy, with pre drawn gain, mic/line/tape return switches, phase, EQ, Aux, (sometimes as many as 8 per channel and oh yes ... let us not forget the pre and post button positions for each aux send! ), also... pans, sub group/bus assignment switches, fader positions...

    Have I left anything out? I'm quite sure I must have. That didn't take long enough. It's still light outside. ;)

    As a side note, there was never any need for me to fill in my name under "engineer" at the top of those charts...my copies always had the ashes and the coffee mug stains to prove they were mine ... ;)
  20. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    I used to joke with everybody in the late 1970s that my console was automated. They would walk into the control room and they would find all these long pieces of marking tape. They would indicate what every input was for that particular session. And we just kept them on the back wall. Kind of became a mural after a while LOL. Ass sometimes we would take time out from recording or mixing to take a pizza order over the phone. Our studio number was one digit off from the important studio food place a.k.a. pizza joint 2 miles up the road. And sometimes taken as these orders would really improve the session LOL. That is when the musicians could stop laughing over me taking a pizza order. There was the famous 10 inch pepperoni with extra cheese. I would grab the band, throw them in the van and we go up to the pizza place and get there before the people came in for their pizzas LOL. Boy they sure were mad. LMAO. Then there's that table of those degenerate looking drunks laughing their asses off and no one knows why.

    I produce results and pizzas.
    Mx. Remy Ann David

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