Mixing help, (or) throw me a fricken bone

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lee
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Mixing help, (or) throw me a fricken bone

Post by lee » Sun Sep 09, 2012 7:22 pm

Can anyone recommend anything to read (or to watch) on the subject of mixing? After mixing hundreds of songs throughout my life, I'm still not happy with how they sound. I think that I'd like to learn other people's methodology on EQing as well as the use of reverb and delay. I'm so bad with this stuff that I usually just go au naturel.

I'm good with dynamics; I can hear the appropriate levels of each instrument, emphasizing certain melodic or otherwise interesting passages, but I always end up with a lot of instruments fighting with each other on the freq spectrum. I listen to other recordings and each instrument, or voice, is perfectly audible even in a large ensemble, but in mine, even though I scored everything out and am sure there's adequate space, it's tough to distinguish between the parts.

Here's an unmixed song for reference.
https://dl.dropbox.com/u/4620054/Baby%20Bird.wav
(Does this link work?)

I can write music, but I'm no mixing artist.
i've written the song that god has longed for. the lack of the song invoked him to create a universe where one man would discover inspiration in a place that god, himself, never thought to look.

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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Sun Sep 09, 2012 8:39 pm

how is your tracking? i'm of the opinion that if you track stuff 'correctly', mixing is not too big a deal, things (even a lot of them) will all fit together.

some on the internets will have you believe that mixing is all about drastic eqing and 'carving out space' so all the instruments fit together....i don't think you really need to do this. not as a matter of course anyway.

that said, working as a mastering engineer for years now has made me a lot less shy about eqing stuff in a mix (i think about 90% of mastering is just getting the eq right). i used to be somewhat hesitant about eq, now...if something sounds wrong to me, i'll eq it into submission if need be.

most of the eq i tend to do in a mix is low end kinda stuff. usually cutting. got a boomy kick drum or muddy bass? shelve the crap out of it and turn it up. besides that, it's usually cutting midrange in some form or another.

as far as reverb/delay, i try to use as little fake reverb as possible, i have a big room to track in so i can usually get all the verb i need from that. but if i am using fake verb on something, i generally will roll off a lot of lows and highs, and i find that this helps the verb sit better in the mix. same thing with delay, more midrangey sounds sit better and draw less attention to themselves.

all that is worth less than 2 cents, cause i think i suck at mixing too.

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Re: Mixing help, (or) throw me a fricken bone

Post by LimpyLoo » Sun Sep 09, 2012 11:58 pm

lee wrote:Can anyone recommend anything to read (or to watch) on the subject of mixing? After mixing hundreds of songs throughout my life, I'm still not happy with how they sound. I think that I'd like to learn other people's methodology on EQing as well as the use of reverb and delay. I'm so bad with this stuff that I usually just go au naturel.

I'm good with dynamics; I can hear the appropriate levels of each instrument, emphasizing certain melodic or otherwise interesting passages, but I always end up with a lot of instruments fighting with each other on the freq spectrum. I listen to other recordings and each instrument, or voice, is perfectly audible even in a large ensemble, but in mine, even though I scored everything out and am sure there's adequate space, it's tough to distinguish between the parts.

Here's an unmixed song for reference.
https://dl.dropbox.com/u/4620054/Baby%20Bird.wav
(Does this link work?)

I can write music, but I'm no mixing artist.
You usually can't just go 'au naturel' and get a good-sounding mix. If you have a mix with alot of fighting elements, then you need to do some EQ-ing. In the future you can try to address these issues in the arranging and tracking phases, but for this stuff you gotta start hacking some frequencies.

First off, it's usually wise to HPF (hi-pass filter) all the instruments save for the bass and kick. This will make your life very easy. You can usually hack off most stuff at about 100hz. The fact is that if you're releasing, say, a solo classical guitar record, then you're gonna wanna keep all the low-end. But in the context of a full band, hack it off at like 120-150hz. You don't need it. In fact, there usually isn't anything useful below 30-40hz, so maybe take a listen and then just hack all that off. It'll earn you both headroom and clarity.

Okay, I'll give you a tip that will save you alot of time and misery: don't spend a bunch of time solo-ing instruments and EQing them that way. Unless the multi's of your stuff are released in 20 years a la Pet Sounds, nobody will ever hear the instruments solo'd. It's good to address actual problems in solo, as it enables you to hear exactly what's going on, but really beyond that you should be making your tweaks with all (or at least most of) the instruments playing.

Next, another thing I wish I had learned earlier: don't mix with your eyes. Make some tweaks and then--if you're mixing on a computer--turn the screen off and listen to your mix. So often people's eyes tell them how to mix: when a graphical EQ plot looks extreme, when your eyes are telling you that you're breaking all the rules or you're doing something wrong...turn off the screen and listen. Nothing else matters.

Don't forget panning. I see alot of mixes where everything's dead center. Personally I mix primarily in LCR, as I grew up listening to "oldies" in my dad's car, and there was alot of experimental mixing back then, you know, Tommy James and the Shondells or whoever. I love hearing a tambourine hard-panned. Anyway, make sure you don't leave everything panned dead-center. That's boring.

I usually put at least a little bit of slapback on vocals. (I also put sidechain-compressed reverb on vocals too, but that's kinda weird :P ) I usually put at least a little bit of compression on every element, if for no other reason than to trim peaks. But alot of "au naturel" mixing I hear lacks punch and smack and that's usually due to lack of compression. It's good for level-control on things like bass and vocals (if you're not OCD about automation, that is), and for making drums punchy. And on the 2-bus it's good to glue the mix together and to give it some vibe or "mojo".

I could talk for hours but I'm gonna wrap up and suggest lastly to use a reference mix: find a song you like the sound of and use it to measure your mix against. The balance of the elements, the brightness/darkness, the vocal balance, clarity, low-end, etc.

Anyway, good luck. PM me if you want specific help.

8) LL

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Post by Tim A » Mon Sep 10, 2012 1:35 am

I couldnt really load all the song but from what i heard it sounds like you could cut some frequencies here and there. on the vocal it sounds like there might be some weird room reflections going on which makes it a little....glugy? maybe suss that out and try cutting a like with a really narrow Q. also a touch of reverb would help filling the space and putting the performance in a "room" so to speak. at the moment its hard not to picture each instrument tracked individually.... generally you dont really want this (or maybe thats just me.)

as already stated sometimes digital reverb can be a little... ehh. (i dont always find this but hey.) why not try re-amping things in different areas, maybe the piano in the bathroom. vocals in a large room. everything in a large room. muck around with delays and compression on these to wig it out. there are no rules and as it seems like a unique song why no give it a unique soundscape? sounds like youve been playing by the rules for a while, you might find your next step is just doing what ever the hell you want to get the sounds you want.

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Post by jhharvest » Mon Sep 10, 2012 3:39 am

I recommend you read Zen and the art of mixing by Mixerman.

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Post by vvv » Mon Sep 10, 2012 5:24 am

Mike Senior's book, Mixing Secrets, is also very good, with conceptual and technical tips, and available on-line audio examples - I learned/am learning a ton.
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Post by blungo2 » Mon Sep 10, 2012 5:33 am

Lotsa good advice here. Mixbus has some good mixing videos that don't cost much. If i remember correctly, they're not too mixbus specific.

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Post by timcoalman » Mon Sep 10, 2012 9:51 am

All wise advice - which is both fundamental and advanced - reminding where to begin and also what to aim for in the end results. Mixerman helped me - though it is admittedly weakest skill set. But understanding and respecting your own limitations is invaluable. Initial poster had a great articulation of problems. Most of my learning takes place when I work to articulate and write out the problem, helps define what I know and don?t know.

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Post by lefthanddoes » Mon Sep 10, 2012 10:19 am

I think it's pretty much necessary to know what you're hearing. The "you must have a treated room with good monitors" horse seems immune to repeated beatings. If your tracks just sort of sound bad and you don't know why, you probably need to upgrade the system on which you are listening to them.

You should get to a point where you hear your vocal or guitar or whatever and it sounds weird because you used the wrong mic or put it in the wrong place or recorded it in a bathroom, and then you realize that's what's wrong and decide to do it again and fix the problem.

You know, I feel like I was most definitely told this at some point in my life, possibly repeatedly, and refused to believe it until I had completely worn myself out on overdoing surgical EQ. Now I'm all about using the right mic and making sure it sounds good going in. My point is, I feel like it's really hard to realize the importance of that by having someone tell you; maybe you have to realize it yourself.

Also, by the time I did figure it out, I was really good at surgical EQ, and listening critically in the context of tone, and my frequency-ear was really developed. I don't know if I would have known what to do with mic placement before that point.
When I put on my headphones and crouch in front of the guitar cab with a 57, I think something like, "oh, there's that stupid honky sound I always end up notching out. shift this over... yeah, now it's better." I think before I actually got the practice/annoyance of notching it out, I would have been like, "huh... it sounds bad... why does it sound bad? maybe it doesn't sound bad, maybe i just don't know what i'm doing... i suck" etc.

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Post by mindsound » Mon Sep 10, 2012 12:40 pm

Get this book by Stavrou: Mixing with your mind. It will really open up your ear.
I can tell you a lot to help you but it will take too much space here. But 2 brief advices I can give you is:

1- Arrangement, Arrangement, Arrangement. It all begin there. Think in terms of a classical composer for orchestra. When arranging your songs, ask you some questions about the dynamic of the many parts of the song, how all the areas of the freq. spectrum are represented, the transients versus the sustains sounds etc, etc.... Brief, try to hear the whole thing (or an idea of) in your head at that stage.

2- Listening....not listening....but TOTALLY listening with all your ATTENTION and CONCENTRATION. Its so obvious, but it is the most difficult thing to do when mixing! Try noticing and be really vigilant about your mind when mixing. The minute you think: i.e. "oh it's sound great" or "I'm gonna make that drum snap like x record I love so much" or "my vocal should be more in verb" you're not listening at all, you are speaking to yourself! And the next step, you are convincing yourself that it sounds like it should be. The best example is the mix of yesterday night that you listen to in the next morning with some deception and that you say "I thought it was so great yesterday???)
As anyone who mix, we come at that task with a lot of conditioning. And this conditioning is constantly at play in our mixing decisions. Of course you have to think to achieve the mix you're after, and some kind judgments will arise naturally. You can't avoid that. But if you are totally aware and notice them all, you will first know that you are not listening anymore at that precise moment and that you have to go back to your concentration. And secondly you'll notice that you don't have to think that much to mix. Don't fool yourself (and, as everyone, you are the best one to do that) Simply listen and react intuitively to what you are hearing (For sure, once you had integrate some practical knowledge and skills).

If you want more of that kind of stuff, I invite you on my site and feel free to ask everything you want.
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Post by kslight » Mon Sep 10, 2012 6:15 pm

I didn't download your mix, and I don't fool myself into believing I'm the greatest mix engineer...but I think sometimes it can be helpful to have some good reference songs in your mix. I've definitely read some books, but I can't think of one piece of advice I gathered from a book about mixing that I use? I don't think its something you can read about and really get it...just have to experiment. At least, I learn more hands on than by reading about it...don't worry about how rock star mix engineer got that kick sound, find your own technique....don't be afraid to make a mistake. Of course, I think a lot of a great mix is great tracking, knowing you have the sounds you want while you're recording them. I do tend to do a lot of HPF and LPF, and when I'm in the box I'm almost exclusively EQ-ing subtractively. Mixing at low levels also helps gain perspective of clarity. Ear training is something practical I learned in school, that is learning what certain frequencies are, then being able to pick them out when they are added or subtracted in a mix (blind), and to an even more insane degree when there are multiple frequencies at once in a test. This might help you learn what frequencies are causing problems in your mix, what needs to go and what needs to come out to make clarity.

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Post by Tim A » Mon Sep 10, 2012 7:04 pm

yeah +1 on not worrying to much on read. Its good, but not that much different from reading other peoples ideas and opinons on the internet/people that you talk to. the only differance can be the peoples experiance. basically i wouldnt take any book as gospel, ive read mixing with your mind and there are some decent idea and there are some really average ideas.... IMHO. what i mean is, they are just this one guys ideas that he has though of over years of working and learning from others. take some ideas that work for you onboard and ditch the rest, keep doing this and pretty soon youll have your own ideas and youll get to write a book :)

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Post by LimpyLoo » Mon Sep 10, 2012 7:30 pm

I think reading is a great way to learn. Of course, the principles have to be put into practice to be understood and internalized.

Information is information, written or whatever. And IMHO the best way to study a musical discipline--be it composition or mixing or jazz triangle--is to take in as much information as possible from as many sources as possible and try to integrate it all into your approach.

And in a sort of Darwinian manner, eventually the useful bits will stick around and the irrelevant bits will fall by the wayside.

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Post by Tim A » Mon Sep 10, 2012 7:54 pm

And in a sort of Darwinian manner, eventually the useful bits will stick around and the irrelevant bits will fall by the wayside.
Basically what i mean in a nutshell. however youve described somewhat of a passive evolution, as I think it should be an active one. find out things what work for you and dont get hung up on things that dont work. I for one dont mind what colour shirt the assistant is wear whilst I mix, whilst another notable engineer/author does.

LimpyLoo
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Post by LimpyLoo » Mon Sep 10, 2012 8:25 pm

Tim A wrote:
And in a sort of Darwinian manner, eventually the useful bits will stick around and the irrelevant bits will fall by the wayside.
Basically what i mean in a nutshell. however youve described somewhat of a passive evolution, as I think it should be an active one. find out things what work for you and dont get hung up on things that dont work. I for one dont mind what colour shirt the assistant is wear whilst I mix, whilst another notable engineer/author does.
I don't think one can choose what will yield good results, though. IMHO, the whole idea is that you arm yourself with a bunch of tools and situations will present themselves and then you'll use what tool works best. I don't think you can choose these things, not consciously at least.

Likewise with composition or jazz improvisation: you arm yourself with all these little concepts and cadences and theories, so that when your ear asks you for something, perhaps you can oblige it.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence

I think the initial implementation of techniques is a conscious thing, but beyond that I don't think the individual chooses which ones stick around, which ones are useful.

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