How Do You Mix Today?

Discussion in 'Mixing' started by Dave McNair, Oct 30, 2001.

  1. Dave McNair

    Dave McNair Active Member

    Several years ago, A friend of mine who I had previously mixed a record for decided for his next record to buy some gear and do it at home. A familiar scenario huh? Anyway, he called to ask what kind or gear to get, ect. A few months went by and then he called one day and said I'm done recording and I think it's pretty good, let me ask you a question, how do you mix? I tried not to laugh cause he was asking seriously. I know what thought processes I use when confronted with this fun but sometimes scary situation, but I'd like to know how you guys go about it. I'll chime in after a few posts and give ya'll my take on it.
  2. Opus2000

    Opus2000 Well-Known Member

    I like to start with the drums and get the overall balance and spatial imaging going on..making sure the kick is definately there but not overbearing and then I add the Bass and try and have the kick and bass flow together...
    Once that is accomplished I then go for guitars or synths depending on what the track is.Keeping the imaging in mind to me is definately crucial..making everything breathe and have it's own life so to speak. I like to leave room in the center for the vocals to pop out at you..ya know..sort of punch you in the face!!
    What effects or dynamics I use during the process is never the should never be..every song has it's own personality and should be thought of it's own identity. Using compression for drums and bass and vocals but using it sparingly on the ryhthm section thus not too make it pump too much as most people will add compression on the final mix as well to make it "radio friendly"!!! using reverb to make a certain instruments stand out in a roomy feel or a tonal quality.
    Some people even like to mix starting with vocals and build the music around me that's hard and you tend to add too much reverb in the beginning to the vox and end up killing the true sound of the $.02 worth
  3. PlugHead

    PlugHead Active Member

    < Several years ago, A friend of mine who I had previously mixed a record for decided for his next record to buy
    some gear and do it at home. A familiar scenario huh? Anyway, he called to ask what kind or gear to get, ect. A
    few months went by and then he called one day and said I'm done recording and I think it's pretty good, let me
    ask you a question, how do you mix? I tried not to laugh cause he was asking seriously. I know what thought
    processes I use when confronted with this fun but sometimes scary situation, but I'd like to know how you guys
    go about it. I'll chime in after a few posts and give ya'll my take on it. >

    It depends on the project, and budget. If I'm producing, and I have an adequate budget, I'll mix at the facility I want, or barring that, will do it in-house. Regardless, 90% of the time, all faders go up, and I get comfy with the elements of the piece, and then work on details. IMHO, focusing on fine details before the picture is present is a waste of my time - once all the elements are present, I carve at the rough sculpture: place instruments with panning (at least roughly), look for problem areas - acoustic instrument/bass muddiness (150-300 Hz), centre the bass (critical!), kick/snare, carve space for vocal, etc. - it all changes from song to song, but the concept remains similar. However, the clincher is monitoring at frequent intervals on the old Studer 1/4" with L-R & sum (for mono) thru the output spkr - that tells me where any problems are - esp. bass and vox.

    Thats my .02 Canadian Cents

    How 'bout yours, eh?

    PlugHead Productions
  4. Dave McNair

    Dave McNair Active Member

    Some cool concepts here, keep 'em comin'.
  5. Rader Ranch

    Rader Ranch Member

    i'm a rhythm section 1st, vox last but not least kinda mixer usually...and i now always A/B my stuff with mixes i'd like to achieve the quality of. why not learn from the best? and, strangely enough, those mixes are rarely 'current' stuff... :D
  6. bgroup

    bgroup Guest

    I was asked recently by a mastering engineer how I went about mixing the tracks he was mastering for me. Apparently he had to "do less" to my mixes than he normally does when mastering other projects. When I told him my approach he looked at me like I was crazy!!! :) In any case, here it is...

    I pull everything up and do a rough mix of the tune with no compression/eq/fx. Just balance the levels of the recorded tracks and decide how to pan what I'm going to pan. I listen for overall issues (eg. needs top, too much bottom, etc.) Then I push in that little button labelled "MONO" and it stays in until I'm almost finished the mix! Then I get the lead vocal happening compression and EQ-wise (reverbs and delays later). Drums next. I generally solo each part of the kit and "fix" whatever's wrong with it with compression and EQ (if necessary) and then bring it in under the vocal until it "rubs" against the vocal "just right" sometimes slightly adjusting my compression and EQ settings. Then bass and rhythm guitar and rhythm keyboard parts. Same approach as with the drums - solo, fix anything sticking out, and then blend under the vocal STILL IN MONO! Then BGVocals. For BGVocals I generally put all the faders at 0, assign the tracks to a subgroup and then compress/EQ the subgroup to taste. For whatever reason, I never have to "mix" backgrounds - just adjust the level of the subgroup so it sits in the context. Next is "ear candy". At this stage I flip in and out of mono to make sure my "ear candy" levels are right. Finally, I add fx to whatever I need to so that the "front/back" relationships sound right. A little tweak of whatever I have on the 2-mix (usually EQ for a little top end, 1-2 dB of VERY low ratio compression, and a couple of dB's of limiting) and I'm done!

    I used to mix in stereo for the most part and occasionally check in mono, but found that different parts of my mixes would jump out on different sets of speakers. Since I've been mixing in mono, I've found that my mixes sound more or less the same everywhere I listen. And I rarely have to adjust levels that I've set in mono once I open it up in stereo.

    One final thing. Lately the spectrum analyzer has become my friend. For a while I was having trouble in mastering getting a lot of level out of my mixes and I couldn't figure out why. I was using a fair amount of compression, the mixes were balanced, not too much bass, etc. So I decided to check out my mixes with a spectrum analyzer. Overall they looked fine, but I noticed that in certain parts, certain instruments were causing buildups of certain frequencies. None of these buildups would last for more than a brief instant, but they were impeding my ability to get maximum level. It wasn't apparent where they were by looking at the waveform, and they generally occurred at frequencies that my ear likes (600 Hz, 800 Hz, 1 kHz, etc.), so I wasn't dealing with them while mixing. Now when I solo the tracks I take a quick look at the spectrum analyzer to see if anything's sticking out that my ear doesn't catch.

    Hope someone finds this interesting!! :)

    Kurt Foster and bigtree like this.
  7. Opus2000

    Opus2000 Well-Known Member

    Originally posted by bgroup:

    Hope someone finds this interesting!! :)


    I do!!! I'm going to try the mono thing and remix some of my stuff and see what happens...god I love this ^#$%ing forum!!!
  8. e-cue

    e-cue Active Member

    You know, I did this once on accident. I beta tested a Sony Oxford that got stuck on mono mode even after I tried going back to stereo. I firgured it out as soon as I got off the auratones. Interesting way to work. I can see how it would work for a lot of engineers.
  9. Mixerman

    Mixerman Active Member

    How do you mix? That's the question? What are you some kind of a cruel sick-^#$%-moderator? What kind of a question is that? How do I mix! Where's the in 3 words or less????

    Fine. Here's how I mix. But be forewarned, I'm going to give this from the perspective of a mixer for hire.

    First, I try to get a bead on the production and the song, and then I try to see if the recording matches those.

    Things I look for. Does the bass sound go with the drum sound?(common mistake) Is there good space captured in the recording or do I need to help the recording by adding space? Is it well arranged, or do I need to get rid of a bunch of $*^t? Do the B-sec's have what they need naturally for good transitions to the chorus. Do the chorus' lift? Does the song have the elements it needs to supply lift, or am I going to need to compensate? Do the verse's break down enough for the other sections to have somewhere to go? Are there instruments stepping on the vocal? What instruments will take up the focus when the singer is tacet?

    Once I've determined all of that, I look for the arrangement. If it's there on tape naturally, then great. If it's not, I try to figure out a good basic sketch of an arrangement.

    Then I start to program the arrangement. This can be involved. It's the most crucial part of the mix. Once an effective arrangement is established, it's all downhill.

    My main objective with the arrangement, is to carry the listener through the song, but in particular to the chorus'. There are certain things that a songwriter does to achieve this (that's a long post), it is further emphasized by the Production and a good mix.

    The chorus' must supply lift. The song should supply that lift, but the production and the mix must supply the lift as well. It will make or break your mix. If you don't have the instruments or the arrangement tools to supply the lift, then you'd better add it, or ask the client to add it.

    While I'm figuring out the arrangement, I'm trying to determine my space issues. Stereo field placement, the frequency range the instruments take up, the space that the instruments are in, the balances of the instruments, the contrast between the sparse and the dense parts of the arrangement.

    Then I just twiddle the knobs until it sounds good.

    That's really all there is to it.


    Got Alsihad?
  10. drumsound

    drumsound Active Member

    Bloomington, IL
    Wow MONO, cool. I think I'll try it this week.

    As for my Modus Apparandi (sp?). I rarely mix things I didn't track. So, I tend to have an idea of what I'm going to do on the mix. I usually put all the tracks up and listen. Then I let the song tell me where to start. Generally I want to make sure I have a good, solid foundation. That doesn't always mean drums first, but they are definitely a big part. I often sub the drums and compress them. I like to sub the guitars as well. I often bring the subs up or down to focus on something else (like vox) but not all the way out. Vox comes after foundation, lead then BV. Ear candy then gets the focus. Panning is dealt with during the focus of each 'group.' Effects are added at various times. Sometimes early, sometimes late.

    Another thing I like to do is "bounce around." If something is not coming along, or making sense I move on. I'll come back to the other part later. Sometimes what I move on to fixes what was a previous problem.

    I also like to monitor at various volumes and various speakers.

    My last step is to print the mix and listen back and a high volume while I listen while walking around the building. That's what I call the party test. If the song was on at a party, would it A) translate and B) draw me in.

    I think this will be a very cool thread. Thanks McSnare. :p
  11. anonymous

    anonymous Guests

    I ^#$%ing HATE mixing, I find it a grind. I find after a lot of work it 'suddenly emerges' my criteria - a radio friendly sound.
  12. Dave McNair

    Dave McNair Active Member

    I'm lovin these responses. You guys really have some very cool approaches to mixing. I was gonna write a long detailed post on this, but Mixerman beat me to it. Yeah, what he said. LOL.
    My own system is pretty similar to what you guys are doing. One thing I do is play with many different panning schemes early on. I also might try several different 2 mix compressors and make a call on that before I get real tweaky. I also force myself to stop and fix little things that are bugging me about the performance at a fairly early stage in the process, so I can leave a clean runway for my "takeoff". I know that probably sounds stupid, but I really like to get a little feverish when I smell the mix coming together, and having to stop and tune that one vocal phrase I've known about for the past 3 hours(or 3 weeks) really harshes my vibe. I'll post part 2 after I wipe the drool off my face and take some asperin.
  13. MadMoose

    MadMoose Active Member

    If I'm mixing something I've tracked I'll usually start with the drums and bass. After I get those together I'll add guitars, keys and whatever else is on tape. While I'm adding one thing I'll always pop other things up for a minute or two just to make sure I'm leaving enough space for the vocals or horns. If it's something I haven't tracked I'll bring all the faders up and listen to the song a few times before I start muting things and building a mix.

    I usually start the mix with the mono button in and pop over to stereo once things start coming together. I'll add effects either as I go or towards the end depending on my mood. I used to put the compressor on the 2-bus after I got my mix together but recently I've started putting it in right after I get the drums and bass together and that seems to be working better. Of course I give up the option of seeing if the mix would benefit from not having the mix bus compressed. Seeing as how 98% of the time it always did I haven't regretted that option.

    I set my vocal and any solo/melody levels by using small speakers in mono at a very low level. I'll also check the mix by walking into another room and listening from there. After I print one mix I'll usually go back and print another version or three. The things I'll change depend on my mood and what I think might come back to bite me. For example, if I think the kick is too loud and the overheads are buried I'll do an alternate with the kick down and the OH's up.
  14. Mixerman

    Mixerman Active Member

    It's not like you have much of a choice anymore. I have to compress way more than I would actually prefer because that's what the clients want to hear. They don't know that's what they want to hear, but they're used to that sound now.

  15. Lord_Algae

    Lord_Algae Active Member

    1st thing I do is turn on all my gear and wait an hour*. Then I open the session and start routing tracks in the DAW to the physical outputs that lead to my console. Then I take painter's tape and a Sharpie and mark channels/tracks so I know what's what. Start bringing up the faders and see what you don't have to start with drums and bass but most people seem to go about it that way. Before worrying about panning, eq and fx, just get basic levels. Don't assume anything! If the recording was done well(something I'm never guilty of) you may not need any eq - If the recording was done by me, you will need all the eq you can get your hands on! Mono is really important...the worst thing is to have your epically wide stereo mix masterpiece turn to crap as soon as it's summed to mono so check often(or always). One thing I've noticed as I've become more aware of such things, is that music mixed say pre-90's tends to sound really good in mono...and I don't have an answer as to why that is, but I'd guess it's because AM radio was more important back then.

    Now comes the harder choices such as panning which is a big conundrum: do you use LCR or just pan willy-nilly(and if so, how does your stereo image hold up under real world conditions?)? Personally, I mostly use three pan positions but reserve the right to :15 and : 45 if needed. EQ is another hornet's nest as there are many, many differing opinions floating around the internutz. Just turn the knobs until it sounds good is the advice I like best! But keep in mind the overall tonal picture, and use as many references as you can! Your room may , or may not, be your friend and it might be lying to you just as easily as it might be telling the truth about the things you hear within it's walls. Don't go crazy boosting bass or highs(or cutting mids) as that probably won't translate very well. Remember too that those Rockit monitors with hyped low end might not be very reliable as a reference(assuming your goal is near universal translation). This is probably why you see NS10's on so many meterbridges - they sound like $*^t but they don't lie.

    This is all just the nuts and bolts stuff. As Mixerman stated previously the most important aspect of a mix is the material being mixed. That old sayin' about making a sows purse out of a cows ear still rings true. If the source material sucks, it's gonna be near impossible to make a great mix out of it, and arrangement truly is key.

    *in pro studios the gear may be left on all the time.
    bigtree likes this.
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Well-Known Member

    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    Fun to see this topic get more attention.

    Right on! I pretty much follow your thoughts and method except I mixdown to a second DAW. I stopped summing back to the tracking DAW a few years ago. No need for external clocking or unnecessary SRC. I mix into the master.
  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Akron/Cleveland, OH
    Home Page:
    For me, my main problem with DAW mixing has always been imaging/panning. No DAW that I've worked on, Samplitude included, seems to work like the pan pots on a real console. I'm not quite sure why, perhaps that it's because the pans on a real console are really attenuators... volume controls that turn one side down while turning the other side up.

    Regardless of the why and the how, I have a tendency to over-pan in digital, and I find that if I use pan settings that I used to commonly use on a console, that those same settings on a DAW always seem to result as sounding "wider" than that of a real console.

    It could also be the pan law that the DAW defaults to. I've always selected the -3db taper method, because most real consoles I ever worked with were designed that way - with the exception of SSL, which for whatever reason, a -4.5 @ center detente is implemented and CAD - which I was told ( so I can't absolutely confirm) was designed to be like older consoles - like Wheatstones and such, so a -6db center was used.

    Which pan laws are you guys using?
  18. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Donny it sounds wider because that's what PCM is doing to your sound. I've heard it before. It doesn't even matter if it's 24-bit, 192 kHz. So, yeah.

    I also use -3 db, in software panning. But I'm not flying things back and fourth. Just positional placement. So it is kind of moot.

    I'm a deaf moot
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  19. Lord_Algae

    Lord_Algae Active Member

    I don't mix into my tracking DAW anymore either. Instead, I'm now using an old Tascam DAT as a two-track mixdown deck, then spdif out to a second pc which captures that digital stream @ 48khz. This avoids going back into digital via my crappy converters(assuming the Tascam converters are halfway decent, and based on what my ears tell me - it's at least a step up).

    ps I'm also a deaf moot so who knows, I'm probably just imagining all of this...
  20. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Home Page:
    You don't say which Tascam DAT model you are using, but most of them (such as the DA-20) have only 16-bit converters. You would be better going for a small but good 2-channel computer interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 that has a modern specification and 24-bit conversion.

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