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mixing basics (reverb etc.)

When mixing several tracks, what are the basics in order to get a coherant sound? How do you go about making several seperate tracks 'blend' to sound as one musical performance? I have been experimenting with this just a bit, and would like to hear some of the more experianced folks approach. Do you use some reverb on the whole mix? Would you still use differant reverbs on differant parts etc. What is your approach to EQ? What's your thought process through the mix? I realize this is a bit general, but value any input.


anonymous Fri, 01/24/2003 - 16:51

Ok that's a nice topic Al!

As a beginner by myself in the process of composing and "homerecording" I'm literally forced to do everything of my own.

And that's a hard learning curve, considering that you're in charge of all the process.
The composing, tracking/mixing, "mastering" in some way, all in one person.

So I'm also in search for every possible information I can get on these subjects.

And I would also really appreciate it if some of the more experienced folks and pro's would chime in to give some additional advice.

Now let's start with what I have experienced so far.

Let's start with composing to get the clue to what I went through.
Ok, to make it short. I've done the tracks, melodies, instrumentation, arrangements and so on.
The songs finished, everything is grooving but it all sounds very thin. (I mostly track my Motif Synth)
After a lot of trials & errors I found out that it was the dry signal of the instrument I've recorded.
No room (reverb) on the track. That was one reason I've thought that the song sounded thin.
But actually the instruments sounded more like thrown together and not as one organic thing.

After a lot of agonizing I've started experimenting with reverb and found out that it gives the song more depth and creates a certain mood (it depends what reverb presets you use).

But my mixes still don't sound pro, so I've decided not to do just trial & error and bought my a good book in german I've found the other day at my favourite music store.
It's calld the MIXING Workshop and what I like the most about it, is that it's written from a very practical perspective by a german TONMEISTER.

The best thing is that it's not about all the specs and that kinda stuff.
It's written in a very understable and easy to read way especially for newbies.

Hey, this is not about selling the book but just too explain. I like it a lot because it makes easily understanding what is used where and when, what's not working and why and some very good practical tips.

I know a lot of you mixers, engineers and recorders say that every song gets his own treatment but I think (like the engineer who written admited by himself) that are some rules of thumb with what you always start with.

Essence of the book (can't write all because it would take too long) was that reverb has to be used.
Because our brain and ears are accustomed to that and sound without reverb (reflections from walls of a room) sounds very unnatural like anechoic chamber.
It also acts like a glue to stick the different tracks together. And it makes it little bit less harsh, more pleasing to the ears.
As a recommendation I would say to start with a reverb of a normal to mid-sized room. A little of reverb on any track. Some a little bit more the other less. Just try and trust your ears and your taste, choose what it suits you best. If you're recording in a natural inviroment (real rooms) than certainly you don't have to apply reverb, because you have "the real thing".

The ominous EQ. I've realised (as far as I've read it - I'm still experimenting myself) that it is actually very necessary in mixing because you have often instruments in the arrangement which operating in the same region of frequencies, which isn't that useful.
Remember that the most of the music is happening at the mid-range so sometimes there's really crowded. EQ is used a lot to open things up and make room for the vocal by cutting and boosting certain frequencies.
Often Keyboards, Pianos have some low frequencies that are interfering with the kick and bass, so cutting the Keyboard at the low end will take out the mud and still keep the sound but you'll get also a lot more transparency.
EQing is also good for some sound-shaping, if you want to change the sound of the bass or guitars for example. Turn up the low-mid or the highs. Trial & error again, trust the ears.
Another important thing is compression.
I know that too much can be bad.
But for myself I've just tried it mostly on the drum tracks and some fat synth-sounds.
But as explained in the book, in todays professional recordings it is used on almost every track. Sometimes more, sometimes less. On the SSL's and others you've got comps built in on every channel and for special treatment they have outboard comps as well.

I don't want to take it all the way to the lost dynamics/to loud music thing.
But as we want to achieve pro results and that's the way the pro's do it, we're forced to do it the same.
As it was explained in the book the compression of every track and at the end compressing the sum, it gives the song more presence. But as always, and in this case it's really true, be careful of what you're doing. Don't over-compress it, it really doesn't sound good.

An additional thought to the compression thing.
And I would like to hear some of the pro's oppinions on that.

Dynamic Range is about the lowest and the highest level. The bigger the gap, the more dynamics you got. It also causes the pressure.
The general statement I'm always hearing is that todays music is so overcompressed (if it's distorted or heavily processed by a brickwall, I would agree with that). It has no dynamics anymore.

In the book was an explanation about the whole dynamic thing and the experience of the author and it sounded very plausible to me.

He said that the compression is not a problem at all and doesn't kill the dynamics, because our ears have a limiter of their own (to protect the ear from very loud noise) we aren't able to hear the whole dynamic range anyway.

To take it to the next step, he wrote that for the recognition of dynamics the different tonalities which are produced by an instrument played hard/loud or soft/quiet are by far more important than the actual volume itself.

So the compression helps even more to bring out a good amount of presence and you will still have a lot of dynamics to hear because our brain recognizes the different tonalities.
And the pressure is there also.
And it was really plausible to me because I still hear with my ear and not with the meters.
And I can't recognize a big lack of dynamics when listen to modern music.
Furthermore the most time, I'm listening to music at a moderate volume level, and I'm sure the most people do it in the same way.
So without compression and with a lot of the original dynamics, you wouldn't hear everything of the sonics going on.
I wouldn't be able to hear the things with low level.
I mean a rock song has to be loud and not constantly drop to a low level like a balad just to hear the great dynamics?

Or am I wrong? Fell free to post.

So I hope that my tips are useful to you and give you some point to start experimenting with.

And I want to add a stupid mistake I've used to make, but I didn't know it better. Now I know.
Don't track everything in stereo.
As a user of a DAW and having the possibility to track everything in stereo, I've thought this might be an good idea.
As explained in the book this should be avoided because the final product should be a stereo mix.
So you've just to be shure that you record the most in mono and pan it correctly in the stereo field to create a real stereo mix.
Because if you track everything in stereo and then pan it in the stereo field you could get into phasing and your final stereo mix would suddenly end up in some wide mono.

Just in case you didn't knew it. I didn't!


Kurt Foster Fri, 01/24/2003 - 22:42

Al & Willi,
Al let me take this chance to welcome you to RO. Smawg is a well respected cat around here and any friend of his is ok with me.

Willi glad to see that the "Why are They Signed " thread and the responses there didn't run you off. We are glad to have your contributions here.

The best way I can think of to answer these questions is to describe how I set up a mix. This is a generic set up for a pop mix. Many things can vary and take none of this as set in stone but rather as a rough guideline.

The first thing I do is start with the drums. Kick and snare at approximately the same volume both peaking at about -3 dB on a VU meter or at about -8 digital scale. I will then select a reverb that I like for the snare. This reverb should be of a duration that decays before the next kick hit. Slow song longer reverb, fast song, shorter reverb. I then will bring up the hat. If it’s a drum machine or a sample I will add just a touch of the reverb to it to make it sound as if it is in the same room with the snare. Now I will bring up the bass, tweak the tone so that it doesn’t interfere with the kick. This usually involves a hi pass filter @ 70 Hz, and 2 or 3 dB boost @ 200 to 220 Hz. I like to boost the bass at those frequencies because it will punch through on any speaker. I will also cut a little of the kick at this frequency to make room for what I just did on the bass. I do a lot of cutting @ 200 –220 Hz. on most of the instruments to let the bass have that space. I then will bring up the toms and the overheads. Blend that together to get a smooth mix where all these elements can be heard. I like toms that have a lot of lows, a little cut @ 180 to 220 Hz. and a 2 or 3 dB boost @ around 4 or 5K Hz. for the snap. of the attack. Add some of the same reverb that you used on the snare to the toms to make them sound like it’s in the same room.

Once all of this is sounding good I will lay in the rhythm guitars, keys panning different elements left or right to help the define better and to get them out of the way of the kick, snare and lead vocals in the middle and get it to where I can hear all the elements. Bring up the lead vocals to where you can understand all the lyrics and blend in the background vocals perhaps cutting a little low end @ 150 to 200 Hz. Last mix in the solos at the same level of the vocals. Sometimes a little chorus on the bass will add some edge to help it define. Not so much that it is obvious but enough to help it stand out. Very subtle. EQ the vocals and instruments to help them have their own space as Willi mentioned. And start adding what effects you think you would like. It’s nice to add some auto pan to one of the rhythm elements to the mix, once again not so much that it is evident but enough to add some movement to the mix. This adds some excitement. A mix that just sits there is boring.

The biggest mistake I see people do when mixing is to solo each instrument and eq it until it sounds it’s best alone. While this may seem like a good idea it overlooks the fact that all the elements need to work together to make the mix. Sometimes what works best for an instrument in a mix will sound awful on its own. Don’t fall into that hole. It is very tempting to do that but I have never seen it work. Listen to different elements of a mix with other parts of the mix up with it to see how that are all working together. That’s about it. If you have any other questions on some finer points, let me know and I will try to help Now go do a mix!!! ……. Fats
Tannoy, Dynaudio, Blue Sky, JBL, Earthworks, Westlake, NS 10's :D , Genelec, Hafler, KRK, and PMC
Those are good. …………………….. Pick one.

knightfly Sat, 01/25/2003 - 06:21

First of all, great synopsys Fats - if that doesn't get someone in the ballpark, they shouldn't play with baseball bats :=)

Al, if you still want a BOOK that you can refer to, one that covers all this and more in a reasonably easy to read format, I would suggest Bobby Owsinski's The Mixing Engineer's Handbook, available at - It has everything mentioned above, plus things like charts of frequencies best cut/boosted on different instruments, etc... Great to have around when your computer's busy doing music and you still want to just get some useful advice. It's one of the FEW books I would go out and buy again if it got lost.

Guys, on the subject of reverb "presets" - DON'T, please, for the sake of your own individuality!!! I have yet to hear a reverb preset on ANY box that couldn't stand (need, even) some tweaking. Presets seem to be programmed to "sell the box" rather than to be actually used in a production.

One example - you get what sounds like the right amount of reverb on a lead guitar part, at least for the slower passages, but for some reason the part sounds too "muddy" when you play a fast riff - odds are, you need to dig into the menu and look for a parameter called (usually) "pre-delay" - if you stretch this value out to around 10-15 milliseconds, maybe even 20, you'll find that all of a sudden your fast licks still have definition, without losing the spaciousness you wanted on the slower parts. What this parameter does is to delay (hence the name) the onset of reverb for the stated amount of time AFTER the attack of the note, so that there is some "breathing room" for the attacks before the reverb comes in.

The comment about not tracking everything in stereo is also mentioned in Owsinski's book - it's such a common tendency, it's gotten its own name - it's referred to as "big mono" - in other words, if everything is "stereo", then NOTHING is stereo...

Great thread guys, keep trackin' and yakin'... Steve

knightfly Sat, 01/25/2003 - 14:29

The Grand Canyon...

Seriously, what price range? For cheap, GC has been clearancing the older version of the TC Electronics M-1, for $299 - main diff with the newer $600 unit (the XL) is memory locations, which, if you save presets as MIDI SysEx with the project like I do, who gives a rat's rear?

TC's higher end stuff is even better for more, and the Lexicon stuff (with the little remote fader-box that sits on every console in every pix of every story in Mix Mag)is great if you have $10k or so...

The Roland SRV-330 boxes aren't bad (get the one with the SPDIF if you're doing ANYTHING digital), another relatively cheap, OK one is the Yamaha REV-500 (although no DIGITAL I/O on the Yamaha)

If you go to the toy store and audition, take some CLOSED EAR headphones with you since it's IMPOSSIBLE to tell what anything sounds like in TOTAL CHAOS... Steve

knightfly Sat, 01/25/2003 - 14:35

Hey Fats - "I was wondering if you had defected ... " - Not a chance, bud - just a slight dose of the old "Life is the shit that happens to you while you're making plans" syndrome...

But everything's cool if hectic now - hey, I hope you can talk James out of wasting his money on that Behringer digital mixer - they can't be worth shit, considering their practice of buying the cheapest crap components in the world for their gear - can you imagine trying to get two channels of one of their boards to actually sound the same for stereo? Sheesh, what dog-shit... Steve

Kurt Foster Sat, 01/25/2003 - 15:40

Yeah I've said all there is to say about that, to him. I think he has decided to go with the Tascam board. But It's hard to argue with a 50% saveings, when that is someones major concern. Really all he wants it for is non critcal monetering and headphone cue mix's and as a control surface. However I agree. Hey!! DH, are your ears burning ? .... Your 2 cents? ... Fats

aloomens Mon, 01/27/2003 - 05:25

Great info! That's exactly what I was looking for. Fat's, I noticed that you will EQ and add reverb as you go. I have been trying to EQ first, get everything seperated and defined as well as possible, and then add reverb etc. after. Are there drawbacks to this approach I may be missing, or just a personal preferance?
Thanks for the tip on reverb presets! I've got dozens of reverb presets, and yet I can only find one or two that even sound half way decent for most things. Now I know why! I'll have to dig into the parameters some more now.

Kurt Foster Mon, 01/27/2003 - 08:35

I add verbs as I go. When I start a mix I will try to first "visualize" what it will sound like when I finish. The way a reverb is working on the drum kit adds to the blend and therefore affects what kind and how much eq may be needed for the bass and the other instruments and elements. I use 3 or 4 reverb "box's" usually. I have a collection of Lexicon PCM's a 60, 70 and an 80. I had a 90 but I sold it with some of the other gear when I sold the studio and moved. I also have an Eventide HD 3000 S/E that I use for modulation, autopan and psychedelic effects. I almost never use any of these any more but rather I depend on the VST and Direct X plug ins on my Cubase DAW. The only thing I use the outboard verbs for anymore is when I using a mixer to monitor vocals into the DAW i will add a of the PCM 60 into the cans mix. I usually set up a room verb for the drums, perhaps a different verb for the vocals and instruments, a modulation of some type for the instruments and chorus for the bass and perhaps on background vocals . Fats
Tannoy, Dynaudio, Blue Sky, JBL, Earthworks, Westlake, NS 10's :D , Genelec, Hafler, KRK, and PMC
Those are good. …………………….. Pick one.




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