Mixing on purpose

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by cleamon, Oct 19, 2004.

  1. cleamon

    cleamon Guest

    I should say right up front, that I am a rank amateur when it comes to mixing. I recently read a great book on mixing called "The Mixing Engineer's Handbook" by Bobby Owsinski. I've always had a pretty good understanding of levels and balance, but before reading this book, my technique for EQ and FX was fairly random -- select an effect, twist the parameter "knobs" until it sounds "good", grab an EQ setting and play with it until something “good” happens. And surprisingly, I've made some fairly good sounding mixes.

    But now, I can see that most of the good (read that as experienced) mixing engineers do everything with a pre-conceived idea in mind - a specific placement of the sound in 3 dimensions - the frequency range (EQ), the left to right placement (PAN) and the foreground/background (FX). Now there are lots and lots of good tips in this book, but I think what I gained most, was the idea that mixing is something that is done on purpose. Everything you do, should be for a specific reason and not just a random search for something that sounds good.

    Taking this new information, I've gone back to some of my earlier work and basically started from scratch (well I didn't re-record the tracks, but in some cases I perhaps should have - another thing that's done on purpose). Now I have some GREAT mixes.

    So, anyway, most of you probably already knew all this, but it has made a drastic change on my approach to not just mixing, but tracking as well. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.

    Feedback is welcome.

    Chuck Leamon
  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    Great idea for a thread ... Once you have acomplished this concept and pounded out some good mixes, you can take this idea a step further into tracking, where you envision the "mix" as you are recording basics and overdubs ..

    This is something I have advocted in the past. I am happy to see someone else bring the idea up.
  3. tomtom

    tomtom Guest

    Doing things on purpose seems to be the way, but nothing should stop you (unless you don't have the time) from fooling around with equipment with no precise idea of where you want to head to. Sometimes great ideas come by accident!!! Imperfection (I hope I'm using the right word here) can do wonders especially with music.
  4. cleamon

    cleamon Guest

    You know, in hind site it seems rather obvious. But it never really occurred to me quite that way until reading this book (mostly interviews with the top mixers) AND then trying to apply the techniques to an actual mix. It's also changed the way I listen (to existing mixes as well as new tracks).
    Now, I'm trying to foresee (forehear? :wink: ) what will be needed at mixing time. Where in that 3d space I'll place a sound and what device(s) I'll use to do so (the hard part). Experience is the best teacher I suppose, but I'll eventually get better and better at it.
    I'm very excited as we are tracking some new tunes tonight. I can hardly wait!

  5. cleamon

    cleamon Guest

    Obviously, experimenting is going to be the only way to learn the cause and effect of a particular device, be it an effects unit, eq, compressor, or whatever. Once you know the gear, then it's a matter of selecting the appropriate device and parameters to achieve the desired results. A (subtle) point may over and over in the book was that mixing engineers are selecting devices/parameters during the first listen or even during the tracking. They know before they patch it in, what they are after. They can already hear it.

    I'll still be doing considerable experimenting, but now in the quest of searching for something I can already hear in my head. And who knows, I may just stumble across that perfect sound by pure accident. Yeah for me. But next time I need that, I'll know right where it is and how to get it.

  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Jul 2, 2002
    77 Sunset Lane.
    Yep! This is what I am saying when I advocate the use of compression and eq when tracking and is a primary reason I advocate the use of the best front end gear possible. Knowing what will be needed at mix only comes with experience but the idea of leaving all the decisions until mix, may overwhelm the engineer when it comes time to mix. There are some basic guidelines to using EQ and compression when recording that will yield results that are not so drastic that the engineer is backed into a corner they wish they could get out of.

    In a lot of fields, it is advocated to "envision" the result before you start a process. This is very common approach in business and sports. Many organizations pay big bucks on seminars for their employees or teams to teach and instill this concept. I think it works well with recording too. This is why I do not think it is a good idea for a recordist to begin the recording learning curve by taking commercially available pre recorded tracks and mixing them, virtually putting the "cart in front of the horse". It is better IMO to start at the top of the process and learn to track first and then to move on to mixing and finally mastering.

    Well recorded tracks will almost mix themselves. I learned this while attending a NARAS seminar where Roger Nicholes spoke. Mr. Nichols mentioned that he could always tell when a recording was well done because he could take all the faders and set them at zero and the song would sound decent, without any tweaking because the dynamics and EQ balances as well as overall levels of the tracks were recorded correctly in the first place.

    Any time it takes more than a few hours to do a full mix, IMO there's a problem in the recording. To play "poke and hope" hoping for a serendipitous accident, a mistake that sounds good to occur is self defeating, especially if you are mixing for a paying client.
  7. radioliver

    radioliver Guest

    Kurt, you are so right about a mix that "mixes itself alone" when it is well recorded. It happened to me on the last two songs we recorded (my band). It took me about 15 mins to get the main mix well. There's always little details to work on but the main chunk was so quick and I was wondering what I had done differently. Well it was all in the tracking. The reverb, eq's and delays I used on the guitars made them so easy to mix because I knew what I wanted from the start. Experience is the greatest tool. It is crazy how much my sound has evolved over the last year with no gear improvement. I feel like I have mastered this gear quite well but I'm sure I can still give it another 5 years and see improvements (although I won't wait that long to buy new stuff :D )
  8. cleamon

    cleamon Guest

    Well, I've spent a lot of time on my mixes since posting this message. I've been trying to apply the information I learned from Bob's book as well as tips I've picked up here. I think I've made huge improvements (can't do much about the equipment).

    I'd like to get some (semi)professional opinions on my mixes. I've posted a link in the "audio projects" forum, but haven't gotten any feedback yet. If you have time, please take a listen and leave some feedback.

  9. Hack

    Hack Active Member

    Mar 20, 2001
    Little Rock, AR
    try this book
  10. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    After tracking I KNOW I'm onto something when I group my drums into a sub, group the guitars into a rough stereo sub,add the vocals and only push up six faders and find the magic already exists.Another good indication of well-recorded tracks will hit you when you open up the headphone mix to the control room monitors for a listen...if its not jumping-off-the-tape at this time, then it still needs something. I NEVER pre compress...it can be a good thing if your vision is completely myopic, but it leaves little room for further experimentation with a track....and really...experimentation is where things get killer. Remember, the mixer is in the perfect position to be the arranger...Another 'ism'....Less Is More...really.A quality guitar section will stand alone and add immediacy and depth to a song...A perfectly placed and tonally complete snare will cover so much area...a small counter beat with a shaker or cymbal can influence the entire groove....the muting of an overbearing and completely out of the groove part can make or break a song....This is where mixing other peoples stuff can be so difficult as you're dealing with someones ego as well as their perception of themselves as talent...so that totally wanker guitar part might be obviously WRONG for a song, but you have to figure out how to work around the wanker who put it down without stepping on his/her fragile musician ego.

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