Thursday, September 18, 2008

Next step mixing

Training volunteers to better understand how to take the steps beyond the basics of mixing audio is one of my favorite aspects of my job. I love to help volunteers succeed. Its probably one of the reasons I enjoy being a Producer so much. For the rest of this post I am taking the perspective that you have a solid grasp of the basics for mixing. In other words, you have been doing it a while and want to dig a little deeper.

Two foundational principles I use when mixing:
1. It’s all about the low end.
2. It’s all about relationships.

How often have you heard a mix that the low end was a mess? Perhaps there was to much in general, maybe the vocals had a boxy, muddy tone. Maybe it’s the lack of definition in the bass guitar or it’s not there at all. There is so much acoustic energy in the lower frequencies they must be dealt with carefully and with intention. Virtually everything all the stage has some energy below 200 hz. This is the critical area of your mix. It’s all about the low end, get it right and everything else is much easier. It starts with system tuning, however for the sake of this post, I will assume you have things in order. System tuning is for another day and most likely beyond the scope of what I can do in a blog.
The two foundational principles are closely tied together when reality steps in. You can’t work on the low end without thinking about the relationships of your mix. If you think about the relationship of the kick drum and bass, how are the two working together within the low frequencies? I like to give the kick drum the very bottom end of the spectrum say 50-80hz and let the bass ride on top of that. One trick is to add a bit of 400-500 to your bass to let have more note definition. This is so dependant on your particular instruments and system so I hesitate to get too specific here. That’s a good place to start in finding the low end issues you may experience. Take time to dig into the relationship between kick and bass, it’s worth the effort.
Relationships Matter…
One simple way to help improve your mix is to examine the relationship between almost any two inputs and groups of inputs. If we think about volume level and volume level only in the relationship it will help you build the foundation for a better mix. This is not about making everything the SAME level, but finding the balance between inputs. Starting with the kick and bass as above, how do they fit together? Do they each have a distinctive tone and does either of them stick out? Now start working through the entire console, listening to just two things at a time, kick-snare, snare-toms, snare-hh, snare-acoustic guitar, bass-electric guitar, bass-acoustic, bass-vocal, snare-vocal, electric-acoustic, etc. Take groups of inputs and do the same process, drums-guitars, guitars-vocals and on thru the mix. Now for the fun part, you should to this all while listening to the entire mix running, not actually doing them separately with everything else off. Listen in your mind to two things at once and just those two. It may take a little practice but in the end you will get to the point where you can do this exercise in a few seconds. Up to now we have focused mostly on level in the relationships, but it extends to the EQ of everything as well. However, I am taking the perspective that you have each thing dialed in to a reasonable place already. You now have some foundation from which to work. Next post will be taking the relationship concept and adding dimension and depth and how to visualize those concepts.


Anonymous James said...

Succinctly written my friend. I've made sure my students know the adage well: It's all about the low end.

9/23/2008 07:53:00 AM  

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