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To mix.
The skill “to mix” can be compared to learning a language. At the beginning you start with very few words, you can not understand a sentence, all worlds sounds more or less the same, its hard to separate words from each other.

This may be what most people experience when they start working with audio mixing. They cant hear how much reverb there is or what kind of character it has and they have absolutely no idea of how much compression there is on the vocal or how loud the vocal has to be. They simply haven't focused on those elements. And its unclear how the work and why.
Maybe they’re not interested, as long as you can say and get understood

“una serveza por favor” its okay......

To mix a piece of music is a complex and diverse piece of work. In the old days it was dedicated to the mix engineer, a person that specialized in mixing recorded audio. That person usually had years of experience and may even be specialized in one particulate musical genre (like Country and Western, heavy metal.....), he was on top of the music production food chain (and still is).

Today I guess most music is mixed by the musician that compose or perform the music, and not by dedicated expert......


This article will focus on some off the skills that a crafted mixing engineer uses and give you suggestions and tools to improve your mixing skills. The text is far from complete.

I strongly sugest to reread Audio Mixing, at least those chapter that you should have read up to now (refer to the lesson plan).

 

A basic description of the mix work could be:

-”the process of combining several audio tracks, to format ready for distribution”.
This format could be stereo for CD or Internet or a multi channel format like 5.1 for film and games.

 

But instead, lets start with the visionary side of mixing audio.

You have to ask yourself AND answer:
- What is your composition about?
- What emotions is connected to your piece?

- Is there a message?
- How should the listener respond to the music?
- How can I enhance and support the four things above?

 

Answer these question will help you describing the vision for your mix.

 

Reference mix.

It is extremely helpful to have a reference mix, that gives you an articulated source of inspiration how a mix could sound (see reference mix later in this text). Find a price of music that sound, or feels like your Vision. Use this reference from time to time as a guide of how your mix should/could sound.

 

Vision.
Its all about imagining how
it should sound like and what emotion the music should trigger.
Lets take a very narrow specific example, a double bas. To make the bas sound “better” one mix strategy could be to sweep the frequency range and
then deciding what frequency sounds “best”.
An other approach is to
image how the bas should sound in the context of the music,and then trying to achieve this sound by using an equalizer, a reverb, a delay or what ever it takes to make this sound.
How do I want it to sound? The answer could be many, but you should try to answer this before you start mixing.
 

Sonic quality.
One of the mix elements is sonic quality.
The sonic quality is important but in the same time its not always identified as an important element among the “ordinary” listener. But then sonic quality  is commonly referred to, almost daily. For example, its common to say  about Mp3  “It is as god as a CD” “ or “It sounds god enough to me”. So there must be some kind of sonic reference........?


Its hard to judge sonic quality by itself, but when playing one piece of music after one another, most of us can distinguish between a “god” sound and a “bad” sound.

 

Sonic quality can be:
Lack of unwanted distortion, for example loud sounds is not distorted.
“Cleanness” how “natural” the sound is (does it sound like an old 78 recording or a digital 2000th recording?).
A full sound, a mix that has a full specter, from low frequency's to high.
A mix that make well known sound (like  acoustic instrument) sound natural.

 

Analyzing a mix.

Analyzing a mix will give you insight in what elements the mix is made up from. It will give you a vocabulary that you can use on any other mix, for example your own.

You should analyze more than one mix. I don’t think you have to do more that 3, but pick mixes to analyze from different kinds of sources. I would recommend analyzing a piece of music that you really like, your favorite piece of music, and one or two mixes that you think is interesting because of how it sounds.

Instrument and balance.
-
Defining what instruments are used.
-Are there instrument any groups? Instruments that naturally (like strings) or functionally (like drums and bas) belong together.
-The instruments balance, the volume between the instruments.
-What is the focus sounds/instruments.
-The frequency balance (are there many instruments playing in the same frequency register, are they easy to separate or do they blend. Is there frequency register that has more, less or no energy.

-How defined (detailed sound) are the different instrument. (Refer to figure 14.4 in Mixing audio).
 

Placement in the stereo and depth field.
-How instruments are paned (horizontal position).
-Instruments placement in the depth position (near-far) .
-How the instruments are placed  in the frequency specter.
-How defined or clear/up front, are the different instruments.
-Where is the focus sound/instrument panned to.

-How wide or narrow are the instruments?
 

Room information.

Is there any reverb used? Is it natural or synthetic?
How long are the reverb(s)?
Does all instrument have the same reverb?

Are there any “effect” reverb (like really long reverb or very small spaces).
Is reverb used all the time?

 

Effects.
Is there any sound effects used, like delay, distortion, ring modulation, filter effect?

If, what instrument are they used on?

 

Dynamic possessing.
Are there any use of compression or limiters?
How are they used?
 

Is there any automation?

Does the sound change during the mix? Volume, paning, frequency spectrum, reverb…..?

 

What mix elements (see above) helps the emotion(s) of the music to be understood and communicated?
 

What mix elements has been used to make you focus on a particular instrument?

 

Importance of instruments/instrumentation.
The mix work also includes elements of music production.
For example you should/could revise your instrumentation at the mix stage. It may be that you discover that your choice of instruments and sounds was not ideal. Then you have to make changes, re- record or re-program. Just equalizing and using effects cant solve everything.
 

Its like the old saying:
“Shit in, shit out”
(well its not that old.....).

 

Workflow.
Cubase

Set buffer size to 1024
Masterfader og llistening level.
Pay attention to what your teacher tells you at the lesson.
When you start your mix session you normally have a of sort of mix from your recording/programing work. Its called the Rough mix.

- Make a recording of your Rough mix.
Start your mix session by doing a mix of the current mix state. Do an export audio (in Cubase) and put the sound file in your project so it plays in time with all your tracks.
Then Mute the Rough mix track.
The Rough mix is an excellent way of tracking if you are make progress with your mix work. Just solo the Rough mix track to listen where you started at, and if your mix is improving.

- Develop or start from scratch?
Should you start from scratch, removing all effects (like reverb and filtering) and start with all faders down and no equalization? I do that a lot. I delete most of the automations (I Usually save some) remove all effects and equalizations. And start all over again. When I have done that, I save the project with a new name. You can always go back to your mix later.

 

- Housekeeping, naming all tracks (color code?)!
Write describing names on all tracks and maybe color them. If you have many tracks put those that belong together in Folder tracks.

Track layout. Put all instrument where they should be (strings, horns perc, pads,
 effects......) next to each other.

 

- Make Groups.

Make group tracks so that instruments and sound that belongs together, like drum tracks, vocal, strings.....are routed to the same group track. Name the group track.

Group tracks can make the mix work so much easier. Usually you need the same kind of equalizing and effects on instruments that belong together.

 

- Cleaning up, non destructive editing.

If you have have made recordings of real living musicians, remove everything thats not music.

 

How to work. Tree examples.

 

Serial approach

Starting with few tracks. Listen to them in isolation (bas, drums, strings, pad, guitars, effects. Then mix them together.
Start with Rhythm, harmony, then melody or background then the
focused tracks or

by order of importance.
 

Parallel approach.
Bringing up all faders, like a rough mix and work from there.
Start making Coarse adjustments, to fine. Approach work in this order:

 

Fader > Pan > Compressors/limiters > effects/delay > EQ> Reverb > Automation.

 

All at once approach.
This may be how we work when using MIDI synthesizers and/or few musicians. We build the mix from a few tracks and add new elements as we go. We decide what to add or subtract, what to filter and how much reverb to use, as the music is recorded. So at the end there is no mixing session, the mix is an integrated part of the whole recording /composition process.

 

Stabilizing the mix

Different speakers reproduces sound differently.

So you should always play your mixes on different speakers and in different rooms, like home, in the car AND on headphones

 

Points in room
Listen to the music from different positions in the room.
Listen from an other room or in the hallway.
When you get tired this is an excellent way of getting new ideas. In the end you should always work from the best listening position its  your final decision making place. The other room listening positions is just to get new impulses for your mix work.

 

Playback level.

Loudness and space, listening.
Most listener defines a smaller space (horizontally) when listen at low levels.
Do a test, listen to a piece of music with your eyes closed. Listen to the same piece much louder and define the horizontal space. Its usually much wider at higher levels.
 

Headphones.
Its very important to check your mixes on headphones.
Personally I find it very hard to mix using headphone. It translate badly to listening on speakers. Headphones gives a much more detailed sound compared to speakers.